SCS: Two dozen schools show elevated lead levels in water

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Shelby County Schools is now reporting that two dozen of its schools tested positive for traces of lead in water from fountains, sinks or coolers.

In one elementary school water fountain, the lead levels were almost 10 times the EPA limit — close to some of the levels seen in the Flint, Michigan water crisis.

WREG has been pressing MLGW for answers on lead since August of last year. SCS just did a round of testing, taking thousands of samples from every water source at every school, all because of a new state law.

SCS officials answering questions Thursday, six days after they submitted a report to the state health department.

The district said it ran a test back in 2017, taking random samples from schools. They reportedly found some areas of concerns and corrected it.

But this time around, a new state law required them to test everything. So far 2,300 results have come back.

Among the findings: The water fountain outside the Gardenview Elementary library near the airport has 149 parts per billion in lead.

If a test comes back with lead levels higher than 15 parts per billion, the EPA suggests taking immediate steps to lower those levels. Researchers say 5 parts per billion can cause health concerns.

The second-highest result, 103 parts per billion, was found in a water fountain at Sheffield High.

"We attribute to that to the lack of use of the fountain," SCS risk manager Anthony Krone said Thursday. "If the fountain is not used there's a greater risk of lead buildup in the water content."

Krone said when the results came back, the district immediately sent management out to check water lines.

A district spokesperson said all affected fountains were shut off and immediately removed from use as part of a precautionary process. Other fountains in the buildings were not affected by the lead levels in these specific fountains.

Parents at the schools were the affected water fountains were found have been notified.

MLGW posted all results on an interactive map on their website and sent the following statement.

"We are making public an old database showing where 36,483 lead service lines may have been installed in the early 1900s when it was a common practice to use lead in plumbing. If your house was built before 1940, it might have total or partial lead plumbing.

Between now and 2020, our field inspectors will be attempting to determine what homes actually have lead plumbing. Many listed in the 16-year-old database will be within the vicinity of the Parkways in Memphis."

Back in August of 2018, we asked about the schools and why all of them were marked lead-free. MLGW said the piping to the school was made of iron.

We checked the map again Thursday, and it still shows all of the schools remain lead-free.

Officials said the utility is only responsible for testing "from the street to the meter."

MLGW offers free lead testing kits so customers can see if their own pipes have traces of lead. They said Shelby County Schools, like anyone else in Shelby County, could have requested those testing kits.

Below are the schools that had at least one water fountain test above the EPA threshold.

  • Booker T. Washington High School
  • Berclair Elementary
  • Central High School
  • Charjean Elementary School
  • Chickasaw Middle School
  • Double Tree Elementary School
  • Douglass (pre-k)
  • Douglass Elementary/Middle
  • Egypt Elementary
  • Gardenview Elementary School
  • Havenview Middle School
  • Idlewild Elementary
  • Keystone Elementary
  • Kingsbury Elementary
  • Kingsbury Vocational
  • Raleigh Egypt High School
  • Ridgeway Middle
  • Sheffield High School
  • South Park Elementary
  • Treadwell Middle
  • Westside Elementary
  • Whitehaven Elementary School
  • Whitehaven High School
  • Wooddale High School
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