GCS Starts New Round of Water Testing in Schools
Nov. 29, 2018 – Guilford County Schools has hired an outside firm to conduct more water quality tests on faucets and fountains used for drinking water or food preparation at 99 of its 126 schools. The district also plans to replace faucets and fountains that are more than 30 years old and do not meet “lead-free” requirements under the Safe Drinking Water Act of 1986 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.
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. Water that is stagnant may absorb lead or other materials from the plumbing system. Flushing the system gets the water moving and helps remove possible contaminants, which are less likely to be present in the fresher water available after flushing than in water that has been in the pipes overnight.
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. No safe level has been established for lead consumption, although the EPA has established guidelines schools should 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 soon.
The district plans to test faucets used for water consumption or food preparation, inventory them and replace or remove from service those that are 30 or more years old, or where the additional 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 is 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 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.”
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.