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 Receives Water Test Results from First Ten Schools

    Jan. 25, 2019 – Results indicate that all but five of the 324 faucets used for drinking water or food preparation at 10 schools tested less than screening level of 10 parts per billion (ppb) for lead. No fixtures at any schools tested above the action level of 1.3 parts per million (ppm) for copper.

    Guilford County Schools (GCS) is using a screening level of 10 ppb for lead, which is precautionary and lower than the EPA level of 15 ppb for lead in water for residential use (based on the EPA’s Lead and Copper Rule).

    The testing is voluntary on GCS’s part. While North Carolina requires all water providers to test their supplies regularly, it does not require tests inside of school buildings and other district-owned facilities.

    An outside firm, ECS Southeast, LLP, was hired by GCS to carry out water sampling and testing. GCS contracted with ECS to carry out additional testing in an abundance of caution after initial test results last spring indicated that outdated faucets contributed to elevated lead levels in three water samples analyzed through the district’s partnership with the City of Greensboro and other municipal water suppliers.

    The district plans to test the water provided by any faucet or equipment used for drinking water or food preparation. ECS conducted its first round of tests prior to winter break. Click here to view the interim report. Click here to view the addendum

    The firm started with the following 10 schools: Allen Jay Elementary, Claxton Elementary, Falkener Elementary, Foust Elementary, Frazier Elementary, Kirkman Park Elementary, Morehead Elementary, Penn Griffin School for the Arts, Southeast Middle and Swann Middle.

    Three faucets, one each at Allen Jay, Foust, and Frazier, tested above the EPA level for lead of 15ppb, and were taken out of service prior to the start of school the next day. Two faucets, one at Penn Griffin and one at Allen Jay, tested below the EPA level for lead of 15ppb but at or above the GCS screening level of 10 ppb. Those faucets also were removed from service right away.

    GCS plans to replace all faucets, fixtures, and coolers that have lead levels greater than the GCS screening level of 10 ppb for lead or greater than the EPA level of 1.3 ppm for copper. Faucets and equipment that test above threshold levels will not be used until additional testing and remedial measures indicate there are no additional concerns.

    Starting with the first day of school in August, the district required all but its newest schools to flush the water each weekday prior to students arriving on campus. The flushing ensures water safety by removing stagnant water, which could increase the amount of lead in the water. Each of the 10 schools listed above may now stop flushing the water daily from all water fountains and fixtures used for drinking or food preparation.

    The remaining 89 schools awaiting testing will continue the daily water flushing protocol that takes place each weekday morning. The protocol ensures that students and staff have access to safe drinking water. An interim report detailing results from the first 10 schools tested is available on the GCS website.

    The district has more information on lead in water and the steps it has taken so far on a special webpage on its www.gcsnc.com website: Water Quality Protocols. Test results will be shared as soon as possible with employees, parents and the public.   

    Schools that use well water and schools located on college campuses are not included in this assessment phase. GCS already tests water that is provided by wells located on school grounds in keeping with state regulations. Information on water quality test results by county are available on the Department of Environmental Quality’s (NC DEQ) website: Water Quality Results by NC County.

GCS Starts New Round of Water Testing in Schools

  • District to replace any 30-year old faucets and fixtures used for drinking water or food preparation in 99 schools

    Nov. 29, 2018 - Guilford County Schools has hired an outside firm to conduct more water quality tests on all faucets and fountains used for drinking water or food preparation at 99 of its 126 schools.

    The district also plans to replace any faucets installed prior to 1988 at these schools. 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.

    While this process is underway, the daily water flushing protocol that takes place each weekday morning at these schools ensures students and staff have access to safe drinking water. The flushing ensures water safety by removing stagnant water, which could increase the amount of lead in the water. 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. 

    The testing and remediation process has already begun at the three schools where initial tests last spring indicated lead levels in the water were above the EPA’s allowable limit. Lead is not transmitted through the skin, which is why only drinking water or water used in food preparation will be tested. No safe level has been established for lead consumption, although the EPA has established guidelines schools must follow.

    In North Carolina, schools are not required by law to test the water it purchases from local municipalities or other water suppliers. Information on water quality test results by county are available on the Department of Environmental Quality (NC DEQ): Water Quality Results by NC County.

    At Allen Jay Elementary, Frazier Elementary and Southeast Middle, 30-year-old faucets and drinking fountains used for water consumption and food preparation have already been replaced. Additional water quality tests are either underway or will start this week.

    The district plans to test faucets used for water consumption or food preparation, inventory them and replace or remove from service those that date prior to 1988, or where tests indicate concerns. The district will retest the water to ensure remediation was successful.

    Once the work is completed at Allen Jay, Frazier and Southeast Middle, testing will begin at the seven schools where the initial tests indicated lead levels were within recommended EPA guidelines. Those schools are, Swann Middle, Penn-Griffin, Claxton Elementary, Kirkman Park Elementary, Foust Elementary, Morehead Elementary and Falkner Elementary.

    Depending upon test results, appropriate remedial action (such as shutting off and replacing faucets and fountains) will be taken. After each school is tested and inventoried, appropriate remedial measures will be taken. Once retests show the remediation was effective, school principals may then be advised they can stop the current precautionary measure of flushing water on a daily basis.

    GCS plans to phase in the testing and remediation process, with elementary schools with prekindergarten classes and older schools prioritized first, followed by elementary schools, middle and high schools. The project will take months to complete, and may continue into the next school year. The goal is to complete all testing prior to the start of next school year, however.

    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 inventorying, replacement and related plumbing work in-house as much as possible to reduce costs. Once work at all schools has been completed, the district will repeat the process at its central offices and other non-school facilities.

    “We’ll continue to improve the process as we move forward through this next phase, and will have a better handle on district-wide costs once we get the first wave of more extensive test results back,” said Scott McCully, chief operations officer. “If we need to contract with additional plumbers to expedite the replacement process, we will do so.”

Water Quality and Testing

  • As part of this effort, last winter and spring we worked with our municipal water suppliers to test the water quality coming into our schools. Final results were received in June.

    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 last spring, 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.

    Now, we’re entering 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.

    When this process is completed at the first 10 schools, 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

  • What’s next?

    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:

    1. 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.
    2. 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.
    3. Surveying faucets and fixtures used for drinking water and food consumption to identify 30-year-old equipment that might need replacing;
    4. Replacing or removing any faucets or fixtures that predate 1988 that are used for drinking water or food preparation.
    5. Sampling and additional water quality testing to ensure that any issues or concerns are resolved.
    6. 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?

    Once the work is completed at Allen Jay, Frazier and Southeast Middle, we will begin testing at the seven schools where the initial tests indicated the presence of lead within recommended EPA guidelines. Those schools are, Swann Middle, Penn-Griffin, Claxton Elementary, Kirkman Park Elementary, Foust Elementary, Morehead Elementary and Falkner Elementary.

    After those ten schools, 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.

    The process is expected to take months to complete, and may continue into the next school year. The goal is to complete all testing prior to the start of next school year, however. 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. Click here to look up those results by county.

    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.

    The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more information about lead in drinking water here.

    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.

Presentation: Lead & Copper Testing Results

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Previous Information About Water Quality and Testing