Arizona begins investigation for lead contamination in state school water systems

Mar 8, 2017, 4:21 AM
(Flickr/Joe Shlabotnik)...
(Flickr/Joe Shlabotnik)
(Flickr/Joe Shlabotnik)
LISTEN: Arizona tests for lead contamination in state school water systems

PHOENIX — An ambitious drive to search for lead contamination in the drinking water systems in thousands of school buildings is underway across Arizona.

Arizona Department of Environmental Quality Director Misael Cabrera said more than 7,000 school buildings will be targeted, and more than 1,000 buildings have been inspected so far.

“The reason why we’re doing it based on buildings rather than schools is because lead can be a very localized contaminant,” Cabrera said. “[Lead] is picked up in specific fixtures, in specific piping. It’s usually not a wide spread issue, it usually localized in very specific areas.”

Cabrera said the agency is inspecting buildings built before 1987, when regulations regarding lead usage in construction materials were less stringent, and testing schools attended by children under the age of five.

Lead poisoning can be especially serious and damaging to youngsters, resulting in slowed development, learning problems and behavior problems, as well as brain, liver and kidney damage.

But Cabrera insists that the testing is just a precautionary measure, since there are “no recorded cases of lead poisoning from [school] drinking water in Arizona.”

Since January, Cabrera said, about 1,000 drinking water systems in the state’s schools have been inspected, and only 2.5 percent have resulted in lead levels that prompted action.

So what does a school district do when a building’s drinking water system shows an elevated lead level? Cabrera said the response can be “as simple as making sure to flush the line before anybody consumes the water, or turning off a particular water faucet.”

“The fortunate part is that in most cases the corrective actions are quite simple to deploy,” Cabrera said.

The agency will spend $800,000 on the lead tests and expects to complete all inspections by the end of June.

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Arizona begins investigation for lead contamination in state school water systems