Officials: 'Corrective action' taken; lead removed from school sources

By CHRISTY ARMSTRONG
Posted 8/25/19

Bradley County Schools is continuing to monitor drinking water sources in school buildings after the district took “corrective action” after lead was found in 23 water sources  in …

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Officials: 'Corrective action' taken; lead removed from school sources

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Bradley County Schools is continuing to monitor drinking water sources in school buildings after the district took “corrective action” after lead was found in 23 water sources  in May. 

Under Tennessee state law, school districts are now required to test drinking water sources for lead in buildings constructed before Jan. 1, 1998. This law, Public Chapter 977, took effect Jan. 1 of this year.  

Bradley County Schools Operations Supervisor Johnny Mull said in a recent statement  the district had hired TruePani Inc. to conduct water quality sampling and testing of drinking water sources and food prep sources in 12 district buildings constructed before 1998.

In May, 141 water sources were sampled and sent off to an independent laboratory for testing. The district received preliminary results in June. 

“Of the 141 water sources tested, one water source came back with lead levels at or above the Public Charter 977 level of 20 parts per billion (ppb),” Mull said. “Another 22 water sources came back with lead levels at or above the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended level of 1 ppb.” 

Mull said via phone  Saturday the 22 included one water source where 15 ppb of lead was found.                                      

According to the state law, if a school water source has levels of lead between 15 ppb and 20 ppb, “the school shall conduct lead level tests on an annual basis until retesting confirms that the level is less than 15 parts per billion.”             

If lead levels at or above 20 ppb are found, the school district must “remove the drinking water source from service,” notify state officials and notify parents and guardians of students at the school where lead was found “in accordance with a notification policy developed by the local board of education, within five business days of the test result.” 

“Upon receiving the test results, Bradley County Schools took immediate action to shut down and post each of the water sources to prevent anyone from using or consuming water from those sources,” Mull said. “In addition, TruePani developed a lead prevention plan specific to Bradley County Schools to help identify the problem and then formulated a remediation recommendation. Those water sources remained out-of-service with posted signage until corrective action was taken.” 

He also said “corrective action” was completed over the summer before students started the 2019-20 school year. The district is in compliance with state law. 

Mull said the two water sources with lead levels at or above the 15 ppb mark “were completely taken out and replaced.” The remaining 21 fixtures were repaired and retested. He added testing will continue to be done annually. 

“We went above and beyond,” Mull said. “By state law, we only had to address the two, but we went ahead and addressed based on what the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends.” 

Mull, who is also chairman of the Bradley County Commission, refused to say which specific schools had traces of lead in their drinking water sources. 

Bradley County Schools Director Linda Cash also declined to say which schools were affected. She noted  all of the lead has been eliminated from the water sources found with lead. 

“I’m not going to pinpoint them,” Cash said Saturday. “None of our schools have lead now.” 

Cash also accused a Chattanooga news organization of “inaccurate reporting” for saying lead was found in schools without stressing the fact repairs have been made to remove the lead. 

The Bradley County Schools director also said school officials “do not want to cause public panic” by releasing the names of the schools where lead was found back in May. 

Other area school districts, like Cleveland City Schools, have also begun the process of testing drinking water sources at their older schools for the presence of lead. 

Hal Taylor, director of operations for Cleveland City Schools, said six school buildings will be tested, per the state law’s building age requirements. 

The Cleveland school district plans to have its water samples tested by AIRL, Inc., a laboratory which is based in Cleveland.

Taylor said the district has already been planning to conduct testing in the fall, and samples were taken at the first school this past week. 

“We are following the state law on this,” Taylor said. “We wanted to take the time and make sure we’re doing it right.” 

The intent of the state law was to cut down on the possibility of students being exposed to lead at school. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics,  “there is no safe level of lead exposure in children.” 

Symptoms of lead exposure in children can include headaches, abdominal pain, loss of appetite, constipation, clumsiness, agitation, decreased activity and drowsiness. Lead can also cause long-term effects, such as cognitive impairment. The AAP advises doctors that any exposure to lead which leads to noticeable symptoms “must be treated as an emergency.” 

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