West View (left) and Boones Creek Elementary (right) have been found to have excess amounts of lead.
By MARINA WATERS
The Washington County School System removed a total of three water fountains from two schools on Thursday after discovering the fountains contained an amount of lead in the water that exceeded the state’s limit.
Boones Creek Elementary School removed two fountains while West View Elementary School removed one following water testing results from Wingfield Environmental showing that the fountains contained too much lead according to state regulations.
The state law says if test results exceed 15 parts per billion but is less than 20 parts per billion, the school has to conduct lead level tests on an annual basis until a test confirms that the level is less than 15 parts per billion. At or above 20 parts per billion, the school system must remove the drinking source. One fountain at Boones Creek contained 17. 1 parts per billion, the other had 24.6 and West View’s lone contaminated fountain contained 34.2.
“First of all, our initial response was notification,” Washington County Director of Schools Bill Flanary told the Herald & Tribune. “We wrote a letter, composed it, signed it, got it out to principals and got it into kids’ hands. We also used various digital means, electronic means.”
If the limit for the lead testing is reached or exceeded, the school system must notify the commissioner of environment and conservation, the commissioner of health, the local department of health, the local governing body, and the department of education within 24 hours. The parents and guardians of students enrolled at the school must be notified within five business days of the test result.
To alleviate the problem, Flanary said the school system will have to locate the source of the contamination.
“So where did it come from? Was it right there where the cut off is? Is it further back in the wall?” Flanary said. “Is it further back in the main line? Is it underneath the floor? We have to continue to dig until we find the source. We’re going to start looking for the point source of the contamination. If it’s under the floor and we have to bust up the floor, we just have to do it.”
In the meantime, the schools are taking the necessary precautions.
Flanary said, in addition to removing the drinking fountains, the school system has received bottled water from Pepsi and coolers and ice from Food City. He also said a local Boones Creek church made donations to Boones Creek as well.
“Our business partners and our neighborhood friends have really helped out. So we’re out in front of it,” Flanary said. “The tests pointed out specific sources of lead contamination, although I can see how a child or an adult would not want to drink the water throughout the school. That’s why we kind of went beyond in bringing in bottled water.”
Apart from drinking, the school system had another concern related to the water results at Boones Creek Elementary; because the school also serves as a prep kitchen for other schools in the school system, the menu has changed to exclude any items that would require water in order to be prepared.
“(Boones Creek Elementary) sends food out to other schools — that’s a problem because we use water to cook,” Flanary said. “So we rearranged their menus to use no added water. We are not using that water to cook with anymore.”
Flanary clarified that the water at the two schools would not be cut off.
As for the other Washington County Schools, Jonesborough Elementary, Sulphur Springs, Lamar, South Central, Boones Creek Middle, Jonesborough Middle, the central office and David Crockett High School has have already been tested and received results within the state’s regulations.
Each school built before 1998 must be tested, meaning Grandview and Ridgeview are the only schools that will not undergo any water testing. Starting in 2019, all Tennessee school systems must test each drinking fountain in its older schools within two years.
“We have two years to get it done, but we’re just not going to drag our feet,” Flanary said. “We’d like to get it done the first six months the law is in effect and get it done. We are four months in and we’ve found three water fountains (above the state’s limits for lead). So I don’t know if that’s good, but it could have been more.”