Testing shows lead levels 1,000 times above standard at one school drinking fountain

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SHELBY COUNTY, Tenn. — Lead testing was done at more than 160 schools in the Shelby County district after a new state law was implemented requiring schools to test for lead in water sources.

But one of those schools had a shocking result — a water fountain at one airport-area school was found with more than 1,000 times the EPA standard of 15 parts per billion.

The number was so high, it seemed unusual, so WREG double-checked with the state, who then double-checked with the vendor who did the testing. They said yes, it is correct.

Based on test results submitted to the state of Tennessee, a water faucet near a boys restroom at Airways Achievement Elementary tested for lead came in at 18,800 parts per billion.

Here’s some perspective: If a test result comes in at more than 20 parts per billion, immediate changes are required by the state.

The EPA threshold is 15, so you’re looking at more than 1,000 times what is legally allowed.

“It’s alarming,” said Airways Achievement mom Loria White. “We have to take care of the kids. They come first.”

By law if any results come back at 20 or higher the drinking water source must be removed from service. The Department of Health, along with parents, must be notified.

Airways Achievement joins this new list of schools the district released Tuesday with higher numbers, along with another list released last week.

Of the 3500 samples taken from ice machines, faucets and drinking fountains,  the district says 60 were over the EPA threshold.

“The water is safe. Again, the water is safe,” SCS Superintendent Joris Ray said Tuesday. “The fountains and the coolers with lead sources, we’ve shut them down.”

Ray wants to be clear the high levels detected aren’t coming from the water or the pipes at schools, but from the source, like water fountains not often used, causing a lead build up.

As for the particulars about the faucet at Airways Achievement Academy and why those numbers were so high, that’s not clear. The state said the vendor did not tell them why.

SCS didn’t directly say either when we asked but reiterated those spots with high levels came from sources rarely used.

Numbers aside, White has faith in the district fixing the problem.

“I think they’re gonna do good,” she said.

Ray says lead issues stem from old buildings, something he’s working to fix.

“Looking at all of our buildings, we have some buildings with over half a billion dollars of differed maintenance and I’m going to do something about it.”

Just today the Health Department was at the county board of commissioners talking about going to some of these affected schools and doing lead testing to ease the burden on families.

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