Research presentation on lead found in drinking water in Leon Co. schools

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By: Lanetra Bennett
February 23, 2017

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WCTV) -- FAMU's Institute of Public Health hosted a seminar Thursday. The purpose was to talk about the findings of a study on lead in Leon County Schools drinking water.

One of the researchers, Donald Axelrod, Ph.D., also spoke about the effects of children's exposure to lead. Dr. Axelrad is is a professor at the Institute of Public Health at FAMU.

As we first reported last October, a group of doctors and researchers determined 16 schools had lead levels above federal guidelines in their water pipes, which connected to water fountains and sinks.

Thursday, Dr. Axelrad said, "Our findings are worst case, so I knew immediately that children weren't really exposed to these levels. What it meant was that water was corroding some plumbing fittings in the schools. Given they were worst-case, they're not numbers we should use to assess children's exposure to lead."

Ronnie Youngblood, the Leon Co. Schools Director of Transportation and Maintenance, said the district took immediate proactive measures. He said, "We've been very proactive and very fortunate to be ahead of, and feel very comfortable that we have really safe and we have really good water in our schools."

Youngblood says the school district flushed all pipes in schools during the summer while students were out. New tests showed the level of lead had decreased substantially, researchers say.

Youngblood says ongoing efforts to keep levels low include having an on-board plumbing engineer and working with a company out of Tampa.

Dr. Axelrod says the seminar was important to have to inform the public and community stakeholders on the study, as well as the potential impacts of lead.

By: WCTV Eyewitness News
November 3, 2016

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WCTV) -- A special Leon County School Board meeting was held Thursday night for schools officials and parents to discuss concerns surrounding school drinking water quality and the LCS Quality Water Assurance Program.

The meeting came in the wake of study that found some local elementary schools with high levels of lead in the drinking water.

Dozens of people filled the tiny board room to hear about the recent news regarding lead in schools' drinking water.

Some parents and school board members were upset about not knowing about the studies earlier.

At the meeting, Leon County Superintendent Jackie Pons found himself on the defense, with board members wondering why they were left in the dark about testing being done to school drinking water last summer.

Alva Swafford Striplin said, "I'm baffled and I want an answer as to why we were not made aware that this was happening."

"We should have done it we could have done a lot better, and again, I apologize for that," Pons said.

City officials say the levels aren't coming from the water source, but rather, situations at the different schools.

Donald Axelrad, who helped spearhead the testing, says the facts are there but, "What we have is still not good enough but we have a potential solution."

A solution, for more outside help.

"We need to hire a firm as you've said whoever that firm is that does an independent of all of our testing of our facilities," said LCS board member, Dee Crumpler.

Still, parents let their concerns be heard in front of the board.

"Both my students were in summer camp at W.T. Moore over the summer so didn't know anything about it they were drinking the water they played outside all day would go inside and drink from the water fountain," one parent said.

When we spoke with Superintendent Pons prior to the meeting, he said the LCS Quality Water Assurance Program will be a first of its kind project designed to provide clean water for generations to come.

Pons told us, "Not hardly any school district in the state that I know of is testing the water, so this is an opportunity for us to lead the way to make sure that we provide information to our parents regarding this. Protecting the environment is very important we want to make sure we keep the lead out of the water."

The school board will meet again on Tuesday, November 22nd. They hope to come up with contractors to do testing as to why elevated levels of lead were found in drinking water.

To view the complete list of testing results for the 16 Leon County Schools sampled for lead, click here.

By: Lanetra Bennett
October 27, 2016

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WCTV) -- Leon County's school superintendent is calling for a special meeting to try to get some answers.

This comes after the release of a new study that shows some elementary schools with high levels of lead in the water.

W.T. Moore, Killearn Lakes, and Ruediger topped the list.

The district says it does intend to test all schools for lead, but hasn't figured out a timeline yet.

The study details lead levels in school water fountains and faucets. The results have many parents on edge. School officials say while the numbers may sound alarming, they're not as bad as they seem.

"Our kids are not in a position to be in harm's way." Said, Ronnie Youngblood, the Leon County Schools Director of Transportation and Maintenance.

Though pediatricians say lead levels shouldn't be over 1 part per billion (ppb), the Leon County school district follows standards set by the Environmental Protection Agency, which is 20 ppb.

Recent testing showed W.T. Moore Elementary School was the only school tested above that standard. The school had 24.90 ppb.

"The only way you're going to get to one ppb is to change out all of you infrastructure with a lead-free type, which not all of ours could be done; or you provide bottled water for everyone." Youngblood said.

Youngblood says W.T. Moore is now under the E.P.A. standards. He says a clogged filter has been fixed and they've put in an automated flush system.

Youngblood points out that out of 32 samples, 28 were in the single digits and well within federal guidelines.

He says parents should not worry about water used in any of the school cafeterias. "All water that is used for cooking and preparation of food, it goes through a triple filter system that we have in place in all of our cafeterias. So that is taken care of, that problem as far as the water that is used for actual cooking."

There was only enough grant funding to test 16 schools and those were among the oldest schools in the district. Youngblood said those 16 were chosen because they are elementary schools and younger students are more at-risk. He says the schools were chosen also because they are the oldest schools in the district, which would give them the best scenario of problems if there had been problems.

Administrators do plan to test the remaining schools, but, a spokesperson says that could cost between $50,000 and $100,000. It also has to be approved by the school board.

School Board Member Alva Striplin agrees all schools should be tested. She said student safety is always top priority. She said, "I have children in the public school system. You want to send your kids to school safe every day, whether it be on the bus, on the playground, drinking water. That is the top priority with our children."

Late Thursday afternoon, Superintendent Jackie Pons called a special school board meeting for next Thursday, November 3rd. They plan to talk about lead levels and the district's water quality plan going forward.

The study was initiated by Tallahassee allergist, Dr. Ronald Saff.
Samples were taken over the summer while students were not in school. District officials say problems were immediately fixed.

By: Julie Montanaro
October 27, 2016

Tallahassee, FL (WCTV) -

A spokesman for Leon County Schools says right now there is no timeline for testing lead levels in water at all Leon County Schools.

A study released this week showed test results for 16 elementary schools - including two whose limits topped the U.S. EPA recommendations. Water fountains and faucets in those schools have since been fixed and re-tested, the school district says.

LCS Spokesman Chris Petley says at this point no other schools have been tested. Petley says school board members will learn more about the test results and a proposed water quality assurance program at a workshop on December 13th.

It could be January before the school board votes on whether to move forward with district wide testing, Petley said. Early estimates, he says, show it could cost between $50,000 and $100,000 to run the tests and make any necessary changes.

Petley says as far as school cafeterias are concerned, water used in food and ice is already run through a triple filtration system.

By: Lanetra Bennett
October 26, 2016

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WCTV) -- Researchers have discovered high levels of lead in water at several schools in schools in the Big Bend.

The local allergist who pitched the study, Dr. Ronald Saff, says the idea came after the Flint Water Crisis. Local levels aren't nearly as high, but are high enough, Dr. Saff says, to possibly impact your child's health.

Tallahassee resident Ashley Shiver' has a kindergarten daughter and a fifth grade son who go to Killearn Elementary School. It's second on the list of schools with the highest lead levels.

Shiver said, "I like to live as natural as possible. I don't like my kids exposed to chemicals and toxins. So, hearing that there's a very high level of lead in the pipes there was definitely concerning."

Researchers tested a number of schools. They tested water from fountains and some from cafeteria faucets.

The study found W.T. Moore Elementary had the highest level at nearly 25 parts per billion (ppb). According to the study, Killearn Lakes had 18.17; Ruediger Elementary 9.71; Woodville Elementary 9.21, and Pineview Elementary 9.05.

The American Academy of Pediatrics says lead in drinking water shouldn't be over one ppb.

Dr. Saff said, "There's really no okay level. Anything that's higher than zero is not safe. The body doesn't need lead. It's sort of like crack cocaine or heroin. Even tiny amounts can be harmful."

Pediatrician Paul Martinez say effects of lead in children range from subtle to severe such as mental retardation and anemia.

Dr. Martinez said, "The less subtle symptoms may present as developmental delays, whether that's speech delay or delay in fine motor skills. Some of these symptoms can be very difficult to notice."

"I do not want to go back years later and wish I had done something." Shiver said.

Dr. Martinez recommends lead screening from early infancy through young childhood to be done at routine checkups.

He said "I think the important thing is for the public not to panic. I think if they're child's been having regular checkups and screenings, they probably don't have much to be concerned about. There is a reasonable likelihood that many of these children have actually had lead tests through their health care providers."

Dr. Saff says lead in water can be remedied by changing out plumbing fixtures and flushing the pipes, which he says Leon County Schools did immediately.

He said, "We alerted Jackie Pons and Jackie Pons called an immediate meeting. He instructed his maintenance staff to look into this and to start lowering the lead levels. So, they immediately jumped into action and they started changing out plumbing faucets that had problems. They started flushing the lines and they started essentially tackling the problem. They acted quickly and aggressively."

Wakulla County schools were also tested, but their levels were not as high.

Statement from Leon County Schools

Leon County Schools Water Levels within EPA Recommended Range

During the summer of 2016, researchers approached Leon County Schools to test for lead in water on our campuses. LCS agreed and worked with this group to run tests on sixteen school sites, including some of the oldest buildings in the district. The tests were completed prior to the start of school—before students returned from summer break. Tests were run on water outlets in two locations per school with the final results showing all locations to be within federal guidelines.

Of the thirty-two tests completed, twenty-eight tests were returned with levels less than 10 parts per billion. Two came back with slightly higher levels than the EPA recommended 15 parts per billion. LCS immediately worked to rectify the higher levels in those two locations. The water was retested the next day and the levels were found to be back below the federally mandated action level.

The safety of our students will always be our top priority and we will communicate immediately if there is a concern.

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