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Schools Find Minor Lead Levels in Drinking Water

No Legal Action Is Required for Results Below 15 Parts Per Billion

Lead counts at this Franklin School water fountain do not exceed federal thresholds but are still cause for concern.

Santa Barbara Unified School District jumped the gun on Assembly Bill 746, which requires all California public schools to have their water tested for lead by July 1, 2019. In a proactive move, S.B. Unified had their water tested in June 2016 and replaced a kitchen pot filler at La Colina Jr. High that was dispensing water with 15 parts per billion (ppb) of lead, the legal limit in which action is required. However, other schools in the district had results of lead above 5 ppb, the federal regulation limit for bottled water, and no action has been taken. Most notable was Franklin Elementary School’s Room 19 drinking fountain, which had results of 13 ppb, only 2 ppb below actionable level. 

Although, no legal action is required for results below 15 ppb, other schools in the area have taken action for results below 15 ppb. In Goleta Unified District, Hollister Elementary School had two drinking fountains between 5 and 15ppb. The district removed one fountain and installed an inline filter on the other. S.B. Unified took no action to remediate any fixtures below the legal actionable level. “None of the classrooms listed exceeded the required action level of 15 ppb, so we did not replace them at the time of the report,” said S.B. Unified spokesperson Lauren Bianchi. Aside from the actionable result, seven other samples at five different schools showed results between 5 and 15 ppb. However, “based on the average service life of most faucets, some may have already been replaced during routine maintenance,” said Bianchi. 

Photo: Paul Wellman/fileFranklin School filtered water station

Lead exposure can lower a child’s IQ, affect brain and nervous system development, slow growth, and cause hearing and speech problems. The Environmental Protection Agency set the 15-ppb threshold in the 1980s. Since then, they’ve set forth a public health goal of 0.2 ppb for lead in drinking water. The American Academy of Pediatrics also recommends state and local government “take steps to ensure that water fountains in schools do not exceed water lead concentration of 1 part per billion.” Children under the age of 6 are especially vulnerable to the harmful effects of lead. There is across-the-board consensus that no levels of lead are safe for children. 

Franklin Elementary School Room 19 Drinking Fountain: 13 ppb

La Colina Jr. High 600 Wing Drinking Fountain: 9.6 ppb

La Colina Jr. High 500 Wing Drinking Fountain: 5.9 ppb 

Goleta Valley Jr. High Auditorium Drinking Fountain: 6.9 ppb 

Goleta Valley Jr. High Kitchen Pot Filler: 8.3 ppb 

San Marcos High School M Wing Drinking Fountain: 6.6 ppb

Dos Pueblos Custodian Room: 5 ppb 

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