HAMPTON ROADS, Va. (WAVY) – Two years after Virginia mandated schools to test their drinking water — especially schools built before 1987 — Virginia Beach City Public Schools discovered it had elevated lead levels in some older facilities.
After the reports of elevated lead levels in Virginia Beach, 10 On Your Side reached out to other schools across Hampton Roads to see whether they have seen any lead issues in their drinking water.
Most divisions said they have conducted water tests. Some found higher levels of lead in their drinking water, but many of those issues have already been rectified. Other school divisions reported their tests have not yielded any concerning results.
Portsmouth City Schools tested their water in May and June of 2018. The initial test found elevated levels in four sources in separate schools, but all of the sources were either not in use or had not been used as a drinking water source. Those four sources are now within acceptable limits.
In Chesapeake, a spokeswoman said the school division is using a phased approach. In the first round of testing, they found no areas of concern with drinking water. However, there were elevated levels of lead in non-potable sources, which are sources not used for drinking or food preparation. Those sources of lead have since been corrected. Results of a second round of testing are now being evaluated.
Chesapeake schools made an effort about two decades ago to correct sources of lead in drinking water, the spokeswoman said. Chesapeake Public Schools assessed water prior to the year 2000. Any sources of drinkable water with results higher than allowable limits were corrected or removed at that time.
A spokeswoman for Suffolk Public Schools said the school division “contracted with Marine Chemist Service Inc. to test water in all Suffolk school buildings. That testing was performed in October 2017 and no unacceptable levels were found”
A Williamsburg-James City County Public Schools spokeswoman said their last formal test was conducted in April 2019 and the findings of the independent-certified laboratory showed “no lead detection” or “lead below the maximum contaminant level.”
WJCC Schools tests water every three years. In addition, school division plumbers informally test water in select schools. Both the City of Williamsburg and James City County conduct ongoing water quality testing.
The York County School Division tested water in all buildings in 2016, which was done proactively. A spokeswoman says there have not been any concerning results.
A spokeswoman with Hampton City Schools said the school division’s first round of testing is complete, and did not yield any concerning results for food prep or drinking water. Other sources were also checked for lead, any those that displayed elevated levels are being addressed and retested.
“It is important to note that these areas are not used for drinking or food preparation,” the Hampton City Schools spokeswoman said.
A spokeswoman with Newport News Public Schools says they are testing potable water and will share more information in the future.
10 On Your Side reached out to Norfolk Public Schools, but receive a response.
10 On Your Side spoke with a family medicine doctor at Eastern Virginia Medical School to ask if families should be concerned.
“The level that’s been reported does not seem to be concerning if it was sort of normal water consumption by a child or even by an employee there. It would take a real significant amount of water on a daily basis for it to add up and provide any level of concern,” said John Snellings, a doctor. “It’s a very low bar in terms of what constitutes concern when it comes to lead. At least, what constitutes intervention. So they set that bar really low, so even if that is met, it’s not necessarily at the level that would have a health concern.”
A spokesperson with the Environmental Protection Agency shared a statement with 10 On Your Side stating its lead action level is a measure of the effectiveness of the “corrosion control treatment” in water systems.
The action level is not a standard for establishing a safe level of lead, the EPA said.
The EPA also recently proposed revisions to the lead and copper rule. Under the proposal, community water systems would need to sample drinking water at each school and child care served by the system. The system would then need to provide the results to the school or child care facility, as well as information on how they can reduce the lead levels in the drinking water.
To learn more visit: www.epa.gov/safewater/3ts. For more information about lead in drinking water, see: https://www.epa.gov/dwreginfo/lead-drinking-water-schools-and-childcare-facilities.