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Lead in Water: St. Paul Schools Delayed Fixes

September 16, 2016 09:34 PM

A 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS investigation has found that St. Paul Public Schools waited weeks to turn off some fixtures with high lead in water levels after the lead in water results were available.

St. Paul Public Schools tested all buildings for lead in water levels this year. Records show 233 fixtures with lead levels above the EPA and Minnesota Department of Health standard of 20 parts per billion.

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The district is the only one we found that uses a device manufactured by ANDalyze that tests for lead in water and gets the results immediately.

“The speed and the lower cost, was really important to us,” Jeff Connell, environmental services manager for St. Paul Public Schools, said.

We spoke with Connell, who was part of a team that used these water testing machines to check most of the district’s 6,500 fixtures for lead. The device “gives you the results instantaneously,” noted Connell, and results show up right on the machine.

However, in an email, a district spokesperson acknowledged they did not turn off water fixtures with elevated lead levels immediately.

“We saved some of the labeling and shutdown for those 230-something fixtures that failed the first flush; we did most of that work in July and August” stated Connell, “after the kids left.”

5 EYEWITNESS NEWS asked whether any students were drinking out of the fountains with high lead levels during the school year.

“I don’t know that,” Connell responded.

The district later added that “SPPS has no knowledge of any student drinking any water that was known to contain high levels of lead.”

The district says it was always their intent to get data from every school before implementing corrective actions.

At one of the nine buildings with elevated lead levels in some water fountains and faucets, Bruce Vento Elementary School, students and staff may have drank out of high-level fixtures, unaware of the test results.

District records show that Bruce Vento Elementary School was tested on April 24, when they found fixtures above the state’s corrective level of 20 parts per billion. But those fixtures were not turned off. Instead, the district told 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS in an email that “Vento was shut off late July/early August, we did not track the exact dates but it's important to know that Vento did not have any school programming going on over the summer.”

Bruce Vento Elementary School was in session until June 10, weeks after testing for lead in water in late April.

In an email, the district told 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS that they followed the guidelines from the Minnesota Department of Health.

"Once tested, initiate a corrective action plan, including flushing or replacement of fixtures. This is the approach that SPPS took."

A district spokesperson said the state provides no timeline for when a school has to take corrective action.

District records show of the 6,500 water tests, 96.5 percent of the samples passed the test, including a majority of the district’s drinking fountains.

St. Paul Public Schools told 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS that any drinking water fountain that failed the first flush lead in water sampling was turned off and will not be turned back on until replaced with a hydration station and retested below the standard.  

A district spokesperson also stated that the “next time we sample we will have a prioritization scheme in place so that we can obtain samples and make corrections as we go.”

St. Paul Public Schools has hired four new plumbers to deal with their lead in water issues, to help them install new drinking fountains across the district.

Read KSTP-TV’s previous coverage – Kids at Risk: Minnesota Schools Failing to Follow Guidelines on Testing for Lead in Water – here.

Edited by Nate Leding and Rebecca Omastiak.

Eric Chaloux can be reached at echaloux@kstp.com or 651-642-4488.

Erik Altmann can be reached at ealtmann@kstp.com or 651-642-4284.

Credits

Eric Chaloux & Erik Altmann

Copyright 2016 - KSTP-TV, LLC A Hubbard Broadcasting Company

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