Guilford County Schools' Commitment to Safe Drinking Water
At GCS, we’re committed to protecting students, teachers and staff health. Our goal is to ensure that each school and district building provides a healthy environment for learning and work.
GCS Completes Water Testing and Remediation at 52 Schools
GCS continues commitment to test faucets used for drinking and food prep in schools
March 11, 2020 – Guilford County Schools (GCS) is more than halfway through the district’s plan to test water used for drinking and food preparation in its schools after completing phase five of the project.
Phase three tested water at Alderman, Bluford, Fairview, Jamestown, Johnson Street, Northwood, Pilot, Shadybrook, Southwest and Triangle Lake elementary schools. The results showed water in all but seven of the 319 faucets or fixtures used for drinking water or food preparation in those schools showed levels less than the district’s screening level of 10 parts per billion (ppb) for lead and 1.3 parts per million (ppm) for copper. No water tested above the thresholds at Bluford, Fairview, Jamestown, Northwood, Pilot, Southwest or Triangle Lake elementary schools.
The schools tested in phase four, included Cone, General Greene, Gibsonville, Jefferson, Monticello-Brown Summit, Pearce, Peck, Rankin, Reedy Fork and Vandalia elementary schools. In those 10 schools, water from eight of the 317 faucets and fixtures tested showed results above GCS’ limits. No water tested above the thresholds at Cone, General Greene, Gibsonville, Jefferson, Pearce or Reedy Fork elementary schools.
GCS tested water at Colfax, Florence, Irving Park, McLeansville, Montlieu, Murphey, Oak View, Parkview, Sternberger and Washington elementary schools in phase five of the project. Water from 14 of the 329 faucets and fixtures tested showed levels above district thresholds. No water tested above the thresholds at Colfax, Irving Park, McLeansville, Montlieu, Sternberger or Washington elementary schools.
The faucets that had water testing above 10 or 15 ppb for lead or above 1.3 ppm for copper were either replaced and retested or permanently taken out of service.
GCS set its thresholds for remediation after reviewing Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) guidelines and hiring an outside expert.
Testing indicates GCS’ daily flushing protocols put in place prior to the start of the 2018-19 school year, which continue throughout the current school year, as well as anti-corrosive measures used by water suppliers likely reduced lead levels at GCS schools to non-detectable before students started classes each day.
Results for each school are posted on that school’s web page, and principals shared the results with families and staff as soon as the school report was available.
The first five phases completed testing and remediation at 52 of the 96 schools GCS plans to test. The number of schools were reduced from 99 until a final decision is made on the future of three, currently vacant, schools damaged by tornadoes.
The district will continue the testing and remediation program until completed at all schools, except the newest schools or those not located on district-owned property. GCS already tests water that is provided by wells located on school grounds in keeping with state regulations.
Currently, GCS is working through testing and remediation at schools included in phase six of the water testing plan. Schools are communicating with staff and families throughout the process.
In the meantime, schools that have not yet completed the process will continue to flush the water each morning for one minute before students arrive.
Additional Water Updates
Water Quality and Testing
In 2018, we worked with our municipal water suppliers to test the water quality coming into our schools. Final results were received in June 2018.
A representative screening sample was collected and tested from 109 sites – 99 schools and 10 GCS facilities. A central location was chosen in each school (often the school cafeteria) so we could test water that moved through our system.
Those initial tests indicated that only three schools (Allen Jay Elementary, Frazier Elementary and Southeast Middle) had lead levels in the water above the EPA’s allowable limit.
Follow-up testing at these three schools indicated that the problem was likely caused by lead in the faucet. The faucets were replaced and the water was retested again. These tests did not indicate any further issues.
Initial tests also indicated that seven GCS schools had lead levels within the EPA allowable limits: Claxton Elementary, Falkner Elementary, Foust Elementary, Kirkman Park Elementary, Morehead Elementary, Penn-Griffin School for the Visual and Performing Arts and Swann Middle School.
To ensure we are providing safe drinking water to students and staff while we determined what our next steps should be, we instituted a daily water flushing protocol at every school that started when schools reopened in August.
Flushing, or letting the water run for one minute or more from each faucet or fixture used for drinking water or food preparation each morning before students arrive, removes stagnant water, which could increase the amount of lead in the water. This protocol will remain in place until additional testing indicates it is no longer necessary.
Response to Initial Test Results
Since the tests were conducted, GCS has replaced all 30-year-old faucets and fixtures at Allen Jay Elementary, Frazier Elementary and Southeast Middle that are used for either drinking water or food preparation.
In fall 2018, we entered phase two of the project, which is to conduct more water quality tests on all faucets and fountains used for drinking water or food preparation at 99 of our 126 schools.
The district also plans to replace any faucets installed prior to 1988 at these schools. We plan to start with the schools where initial tests indicated a concern.
We will phase-in the rest of the work, with buildings that serve the youngest students and those that are more than 30 years old prioritized above those serving older students or newer facilities. We will complete the process at district offices and facilities once the work at our schools has been completed.
Water Testing: More Details
GCS has hired an outside firm to conduct more water quality tests on all faucets or fountains used districtwide for drinking water or food preparation at the 99 schools and 10 sites included in the original study. We also plan to replace any faucets or fountains installed that are more than 30 years old at these schools, and where the additional test results indicate any concerns.
GCS plans and intends to remove all faucets, fixtures, and coolers that do not meet any of the lead-free standards under the Safe Drinking Water Act.
Section 1417 of the Safe Drinking Water Act said, after June 1986, any pipe, any pipe or plumbing fitting or fixture, any solder, or any flux must be lead-free if it is used in the installation or repair of any public water system or plumbing in a residential or non-residential facility that provides water for human consumption.
Although the initial test results showed the vast majority – 97 percent – of schools and other sites were either lead-free or well within the EPA’s acceptable levels, the district has taken the following additional steps:
- Running water for one minute (called flushing) before drinking it or using it for food preparation is a preventative measure that limits the potential for lead contamination and helps ensure we provide safe drinking water for students and staff.
- Advising principals, athletic directors and community groups that use GCS facilities on the weekends to flush the water for at least one minute before drinking or food preparation.
- Surveying faucets and fixtures used for drinking water and food consumption to identify 30-year-old equipment that might need replacing;
- Replacing or removing any faucets or fixtures that predate 1988 that are used for drinking water or food preparation.
- Sampling and additional water quality testing to ensure that any issues or concerns are resolved.
- Repeating the steps above as needed and maintaining the daily water flushing until test results indicate it is no longer needed.
When will my school’s water be tested?
GCS is prioritizing elementary schools with Pre-K classrooms, schools built before 1988 and other elementary schools. GCS ultimately plans to repeat the testing and inventory process at nearly all schools.
School principals will notify their families and staff members when their school is scheduled to be tested, and when any remediation work starts.
Will we be informed of the test results?
Yes. Test results will be shared with the principal, staff, parents and the public.
Which schools are not included in the testing?
New schools and those not currently in use will not be a part of this process, nor will schools that are housed on campuses owned and operated by local community colleges or universities.
Several GCS schools use well water rather than municipal water suppliers. Since GCS already tests water provided by wells located on school grounds in keeping with state regulations, those schools are not included in this project.
How long will schools have to continue flushing water daily?
While we are inventorying, removing and replacing faucets and fixtures, and resting, the daily flushing protocol will stay in place. Once testing indicates the protocol is no longer needed, we will notify principals they can stop flushing the water.
How much will this cost?
Testing for lead and copper contamination at the first 10 schools will cost about $14,000. The district has hired ECS Southeast, LLP, which has facilities in Greensboro and 59 other locations spread across the Mid-Atlantic, Midwest, Southeast and Southwest.
The district plans to handle as much of the faucet inventory, replacement and related plumbing work in-house as much as possible to reduce costs.
The district will continue to improve the process as it moves forward, and will have a better handle on district-wide costs once the first wave of more extensive test results are returned.
Why weren’t all schools tested originally?
Representative screening samples were collected and tested from 109 sites – 99 schools and 10 GCS facilities. Schools that use a site well for water are already tested on an EPA-approved scheduled monitored by the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality.
In addition, schools located within a local college building were not sampled, nor were new facilities such as the new Western Guilford Middle School building, or the three tornado-damaged schools that are currently not occupied by students.
What did the initial tests find at my school?
Water quality tests at 97 percent of GCS schools and facilities did not find lead or copper above the EPA allowable limits. The results of those initial tests may be found by clicking here.
Were the original tests conducted at drinking water fountains, sinks, etc.?
Sampling was conducted at a collection point outside the school in order to test the quality of the water coming into the school.
A second sampling was collected inside the school at a faucet selected to test the quality of water once it traveled through the pipe system. The sample collected inside the school was taken from water supplied to a sink, usually in the cafeteria, that typically is used for preparing food, cleaning utensils, washing hands and other tasks.
Choosing one common location across the facilities enabled us to test every GCS school in partnership with our municipal water providers, who paid for the sampling and testing.
What did GCS do next at the three schools with higher levels?
Guilford County Schools used the EPA’s two-step sampling process to assess whether the higher lead sample reading was due to the faucet itself or the plumbing upstream of the faucet by sampling before and after flushing the faucet. Sample results following the water flush were very low, confirming that the source of lead in the water was the faucet itself, rather than the incoming piping or some other source, in each of the three schools that were retested.
GCS then replaced each of those faucets with new equipment, which does not contain lead at a significant level, and resampled the water from the new faucet. The laboratory results of the sample taken directly from the faucet after it had been replaced showed no detectable levels of lead in the water, which confirmed that the replacement of the faucet was an effective remedial measure. A final report was received in June.