VB school division says elevated lead levels fix is a ‘learning experience’

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VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) — A learning experience — that’s what the Virginia Beach school division says about the process since discovering elevated levels of lead in drinking water at several schools. 

The Virginia Beach School Board met Tuesday night to get an update on the elevated lead levels found in the water at more than two dozen city schools.

On Tuesday afternoon, Chief Operations Officer Jack Freeman updated the School Board members on the progress of the water testing in the Virginia Beach City Public Schools buildings.

“There’s very little regulatory guidelines in legislation that helps to get through this new process,” said Chief Operations Officer Jack Freeman.

Freeman said despite good intentions, the district was doing too much, too fast when it tested 33 of its oldest schools during the summer.

The district is now working with a water quality expert from the city.

“Based on her advice and recommendations, we’re now doing one school a week to ensure a methodical water testing process,” he said.

Water testing at all schools built before 1986 will wrap up in January. All water sources will also now be flushed once per month.

Other changes include flushing water sources on campuses once per month and testing during the school year. 

“That reflects representative use of the water at that point in time,” Freeman said.

Freeman told 10 On Your Side the district is committed to improving communication, transparency and setting an example moving forward. 

10 On Your Side reported there was lag time between when the district got the results and when the public was informed. Congresswoman Elaine Luria expressed her concerns about that in a letter to Superintendent Aaron Spence. Spence said he waited to let parents know so they had complete and accurate information.

He adds he released the information a few days after he found out. However, he doesn’t know why it took so long for the test results to get to him. The school district hired an engineering firm to look into it.

“We feel strongly that we need to conduct a review and that we will understand after that review how to improve our process and we will share those findings with our community when we have them,” Spence said.

Congresswoman Luria also questions whether district officials created a “false sense of safety” with the information they released.

The district reports levels of lead at 15 parts per billion, but standards set by the American Academy of Pediatrics show that’s still too high, advising levels should be below 1 part per billion.

The district stands by the testing results, saying the water lead levels have a low health risk for students and adults.

Congresswoman Luria says she’s still uncertain why it took a month from detecting the lead levels to informing the public.

“We’re hiring an external consultant who is going to come in and take a look at what occurred, how it occurred, and be able to help us put together a model water testing program for the future,” Freeman said. “That’s our goal. We want to take everything we learned and we want to turn it into a model that other school divisions can replicate.”

The district is also working with lawmakers to form better regulatory and legislative guidance so it’s clear what schools need to do in instances like this.

If a student or parent has concerns but doesn’t have access to healthcare, they can contact the school nurse or the Virginia Department of Health, which can assist with a consultation.

Stay with WAVY News for any updates on this story. 

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