SF Gate Breaks News: Lead found in drinking water in 7 Oakland schools
We got this story last night...broken by SF Gate.
Lead contamination found in water at 7 Oakland schools
By Jill Tucker
Updated 8:47 pm, Thursday, October 26, 2017
"Children at an Oakland elementary school have been exposed to water with lead levels four times higher than allowed under federal guidelines, test results obtained Thursday by The Chronicle show.
The temporary site of Glenview Elementary School near the Emeryville border was one of seven sites in the Oakland Unified School District where contamination levels of the toxic metal in water exceeded federal health standards.
The district began testing school taps in August in advance of new state requirements, but the results have not been well-publicized. Administrators at some of the schools with contaminated water said they had only recently been informed of the findings, and even the city’s school board president heard the news Thursday from a Chronicle reporter.
Oakland has tested 47 of the district’s 87 school sites. Besides the temporary Glenview site, contamination levels exceeded federal standards at Thornhill, Brookfield, Fruitvale, Joaquin Miller and Burckhalter elementary schools, as well as American Indian Charter High School on the former Lakeview Elementary campus.
Officials say the water flowing into the schools is safe. The problem is in the plumbing — there is lead in the fixtures and pipe solders, and it leaches into the water.
The worst water was found in a kitchen tap at the temporary Glenview school on 54th Street, where 430 children are attending classes while the Glenview campus in the Oakland hills undergoes renovation. The amount of lead in the tap totaled 60 parts per billion, four times the federally recommended maximum of 15 parts per billion, according to tests done by the school district.
That faucet and taps at the other six school sites with high levels of lead were taken out of use after officials learned the test results, said district spokeswoman Valerie Goode. But as of Thursday, the district was still working on telling parents about the health issue.
“Those are efforts we’re trying to ensure are completed,” Goode said. “There are still schools on that list that have parents that don’t know.”
It appeared district officials rushed to inform parents after The Chronicle contacted them about the test results.
Parents at Burckhalter, Joaquin Miller and Fruitvale were notified Thursday, either by letter or automated phone call. Thornhill parents were also notified, Thomas Vaquerano, whose child attends the school, said in an email. He did not say when he had been told.
District officials said Glenview parents were informed Sept. 21 about the lead in the water at the school’s temporary site, which was once the home of the now-closed Santa Fe Elementary School.
It was unclear whether parents at the other two schools had been informed. Efforts to reach parents and administrators were unsuccessful.
One person who had not been told was James Harris, the school board president.
“That’s crazy,” Harris said, responding to a reporter’s question about the lead levels, adding he needed to call Superintendent Kyla Johnson-Trammel. “But now I’m about to know.”
Harris later said the district is working to address the lead issue.
It wasn’t immediately clear where the lead was found at some of the schools. At Joaquin Miller, Principal Sara Green said it was found in a kitchen faucet that is not used for drinking. The letter to Glenview parents said the kitchen tap there where high levels were found dispensed water used to wash fruits and vegetables.
Exposure to lead even in low levels can harm children’s health, possibly damaging the brain and nervous system, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“Let’s be clear. There’s no safe level of lead for our kids,” said Jason Pfeifle, public health advocate for CalPIRG, a consumer advocate group. “The district should notify parents about these results immediately and take strong action to prevent any further lead exposures.”
The district started testing water taps after concerns were raised last school year about lead in the water at McClymonds High School, where a shower in the boys locker room dispensed water exceeding the federal threshold for the metal.
Gov. Jerry Brown signed legislation this month requiring all schools to test faucets for lead by 2019. A number of districts signed up for a voluntary testing program launched in January, with local water utilities conducting the tests. Oakland officials conducted the testing independently.
Of the 1,100 schools statewide that received results as of early October, 35 posted high levels of lead, said the State Water Resources Control Board. They included schools in the Jefferson Elementary School District in San Mateo County and Foothills Adventist Elementary, a private school in Napa County, as well as the California School for the Blind in Fremont.
San Francisco Unified also received results this month, showing three schools had high levels of lead: West Portal and Malcolm X elementary schools and San Francisco International High School.
The district has tested 72 of San Francisco’s 124 sites.
In Oakland, officials are continuing to test taps across the district. They have also asked the East Bay Municipal Utility District to conduct additional tests at all the schools.
It’s still unclear how significant — and expensive — the lead problem will be, Oakland officials said.
“With our budget the way it is, we’re going to have to find a way to make these replacements,” said Goode, the district spokeswoman. “That is a concern that we will need to figure out how to solve once we know how large of a situation we have.”
Too much lead
Seven schools in Oakland were found to have lead levels exceeding the federal recommendation of 15 parts per billion:
Glenview Elementary (at the Santa Fe campus): 60 ppb
Burckhalter Elementary: 30.8 ppb
Joaquin Miller Elementary: 21.2 ppb
Brookfield Elementary: 20.4 ppb
American Indian Charter High (Lakeview Elementary campus): 17.3 ppb
Fruitvale Elementary: 16.3 ppb
Thornhill Elementary: 15.9 ppb