Lead levels at twice the allowable rate were detected in two water fountains tested earlier this month and again at the beginning of the week at Wadsworth Elementary and Bunnell Elementary. The district got the latest results today, confirming similar tests conducted earlier.
All water fountains at Wadsworth Elementary’s Building Two and Bunnell Elementary’s Building Three are off limits to drinking until further testing and the district’s determination for the cause of the elevated lead content. The lead was detected at a single water fountain at Bunnell Elementary and a single water fountain at Wadsworth Elementary. Water may still be used in the two buildings as long as it’s just for hand-washing and flushing toilets. The district is making bottled water available to students and staff.
David Freeman, the district’s facilities director, said parents and children should not be alarmed that children may have drunk from the water fountains in question. “The health department says it’s really prolonged exposure over years of time that you’d have to be exposed to it” for harmful effects to develop, Freeman said. “The fact that we did testing last year and they were all fine, and we’re doing it annually, I don’t think there’s any health hazard according to the health department.” (See a briefing on lead and health effects here.)
Palm Coast and Bunnell residents at large should also know this: Palm Coast’s water utility just completed its required periodic testing of water for copper and lead content. “I can tell you absolutely there is no lead in our water,” Palm Coast Utility Director Richard Adams said this evening. “Our test results were way below acceptable levels. So we have fully complied with the EPA and DEP standards for our drinking water.” He was referring to federal Environmental Protection Agency and state Department of Environmental Protection standards.
Further, Adams said, “nobody has lead pipes in Palm Coast,” a relatively young city. Lead in water, he said, typically “comes from fixtures within their homes, so the lead solder that was used prior to the mid 80s and the brass fixtures, even though your fixtures are chrome, had a higher lead content back in the mid-80s than they do now, and water being a solvent, if it’s left in the pipe long enough, it can actually leach lead out of the brass fixture.”
Adams said he was speculating, but was guessing that more likely than not, the lead issue at the two schools was related to a leaching problem that can be fixed once the problematic fixtures are isolated and replaced. Freeman agreed.
The school district late Friday afternoon issued a brief statement, inexplicably vague and dissimulated–there was no press release, as when the district pats itself on the back–given the anxiety associated with lead-poisoned water since the scandal of Flint, Michigan’s water system, on its website. It was titled “Water Testing Results,” with just that innocuous title appearing at the bottom of the district’s home page–with a flowing water fountain. It revealed in scant detail the outcome of lead testing at the schools. It did not provide precise timelines or the testing results themselves.
“The principals at both Wadsworth and Bunnell Elementary Schools have informed their staff and families about the situation,” the statement reads after summarizing the issue, without explaining what levels were detected, and relative to what safe standards. Freeman in an interview said the levels were double the allowable limit. A district spokesman did not respond to a request for the actual test results’ documentation, saying he didn’t have access to them until Monday.
“Flagler Schools is in communication with the City of Palm Coast, which is the water provider for Wadsworth Elementary and the City of Bunnell, which provides water to Bunnell Elementary,” the district’s statement concludes. Palm Coast provides water to Wadsworth Elementary. It does not provide water to Bunnell except in emergencies. Bunnell’s city-owned utility provides Bunnell Elementary’s water.
“Our last test was three years ago. There was no lead problem,” Bunnell City Manager Alvin Jackson said this evening. Bunnell’s utility, he said, just completed its lead testing, which is required every three years, but is awaiting those results.
The district statement’s conclusion implies that it could be a water-provider issue. Adams said that could not possibly be the case–at least not at Wadsworth Elementary. The district’s statement provides no explanations as to possible reasons for the lead in the water.
Adams said the city utility’s job is to provide water that is not “aggressive,” and that does not provoke the kind of leaching from older fixtures that result in lead readings. Testing is done in privately owned homes that are randomly chosen based on a scientific sample, so all neighborhoods are tested evenly and according to an EPA protocol. The city provides homeowners the directions on when to collect water, then collects the samples and sends them to a lab. Businesses and schools are not tested: that’s the businesses’ and the schools’ responsibility.
Freeman said the testing in schools is conducted in conjunction with an Ormond Beach lab, and follows required protocols. “our instructions from the lab is that it should be the first draw of the day, that’s what we did, we picked certain locations in the building,” Freeman said. “It’s maybe double the elevated level from what it should be, and that could be that there’s a lot of explanations to it. It could be a copper fitting with a solder on it that over time has leached, it might be in just one area, and that’s what we’re going to determine next week, to isolate it.” The cordoning off of all water fountains in the given buildings is more of a matter of precaution.
The water samples were taken from fairly new water fountains, Freeman recalled. The district has been gradually replacing its water fountains to enable bottle refilling.
After inquiries from FlaglerLive, the district revised its statement on its web page, adding the following: “At Wadsworth, the sample measured .036 milligrams per liter and the Bunnell sample measured .052 milligrams per liter. The US Environmental Protection Agency warns of levels above .015 milligrams per liter.”
“People are very concerned when they hear that four-letter word, and rightfully so,” Adams said. At the same time, there was no reason to be too concerned, since the issue could be traced to typically known reasons and fixed. “We’re more than happy to help the schools to try to help figure this out.”