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Schools removes contaminated faucets

The water from the hundreds of faucets were tested in the Oak Harbor School District, 17 were found to have high lead levels.

Because the high results are scattered throughout school district buildings, officials are focusing on the fixtures rather than the pipes. The process should be inexpensive to fix. Estimates for replacing the problem fixtures run between $2,000 and $3,000.

Oak Harbor Elementary School had seven faucets with water that measure above acceptable state standards of .015 milligrams per liter, which was the most of any school in the district. Levels there ranged from .015 mg/liter to .024 mg/liter.

Other schools with high lead readings are Broad View Elementary with five faucets; Crescent Harbor Elementary, one faucet; Olympic View Elementary, two faucets; and Oak Harbor High School, one faucet.

Bruce Worley, operations director for the district, said the high lead levels come from water sitting in the fixtures for an extended period of time.

“The lead problem originates from water sitting in the fixtures for eight hours or more,” Worley said in a written statement. He said if numerous sinks in one school were found to have high lead levels, then it would have indicated a problem with the pipes and would be more costly to fix.

In all, 289 faucets were tested for lead. Joe Hunt, school district communications director, said every possible drinking water source, including fountains and sinks in classrooms, was tested.

While drinking water isn’t usually a source of lead in children, it can contribute to total exposure. Lead has been tied to impaired mental and physical development and hearing problems, according to the Washington State Department of Health.

It turns out the faucet with the highest lead level isn’t in a school.

“The one with the highest levels in the district is the one upstairs right next to my office,” Superintendent Rick Schulte said during the Monday’s school board meeting. He said that faucet, which measured .038 mg/l, is never used.

John Cooper, a plumber for the school district, said he has already replaced a number of the fixtures. He has four faucets to replace and is waiting for the parts.

“We’re already on it and we expect it to be fixed quickly,” Schulte said.

Once the project is finished, Cooper will test the faucets for lead and repeat the test in six months.

In the meantime, the three sinks with the highest lead levels were shut down. The remaining faucets will be flushed every morning.

Schulte said the testing was done after high lead levels were found in Seattle School District’s drinking water. The Oak Harbor School District received some funding from the state that paid for half of the cost to test the water in elementary schools. School workers tested drinking water sources in every school and administration building. It cost the school district more than $4,000 to test the faucets.

The samples were taken by a school district plumber using Environmental Protection Agency guidelines. Fixtures were flushed after school and the samples were taken early the next day. The samples were tested by the City of Everett’s Environmental Lab.

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