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Tests find significantly high levels of lead in water at 3 Guilford County schools

GUILFORD COUNTY, N.C. -- Many of our children attend school in buildings with old pipes and that puts them at risk of exposure to lead in their drinking water.

But most school systems wouldn’t know it because they aren’t looking for it. That’s slowly changing. Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools was first to test for lead in their school water last year. This year Guilford County Schools partnered with Greensboro Water Resources. They collected water samples at each school to test for lead. This was voluntary. There are no laws requiring testing at the tap in schools or day cares.

The results showed three schools had water with significantly high levels of lead.

Southeast Middle School measured 194 parts per billion (ppb). The EPA says that number should be under 20 ppb.

The water sample collected at Frazier Elementary School found lead at 45 ppb.

And at Allen Jay Elementary School, the measurement was 19.7 ppb.

Michael Borchers works with Greensboro Water Resources. He says they found the lead was entering the water at the faucet in those schools.

Borchers said, “It showed that the issue was with the fixture. It wasn’t with the plumbing or with anything upstream of where we took the sample.”

GCS changed the three faucets at those schools.

Borchers said, “In these instances in those three schools, those are older fixtures that had some internal components that had lead in them. It was just a matter of changing them out and confirming.”

When new samples were taken, the tests showed parts per billion of less than five.

Test results found lead at other Guilford County Schools, but the numbers didn’t reach the EPA action level of 20 ppb.

  • Foust Elementary: 17 ppb
  • Falkener Elementary: 13 ppb
  • Aycock Middle: 12 ppb
  • Hampton Elementary: 11 ppb
  • Morehead Elementary: 8 ppb

The American Academy of Pediatrics considers those numbers to be off the charts. The organization asked the EPA to improve the standard to 5 ppb because of neurological problems caused by lead exposure.

“Even very low lead levels can cause these effects in children. The lower the threshold… ideally we want it to be zero,” Dr. Ankita Patel of Novant Health Meadowlark Pediatrics said.

But that recommendation hasn’t swayed the EPA.

“Based on the info we receive from EPA, we’ve come to the conclusion that its acceptable to have some level of lead in there as long as it’s below the action level,” Borchers said.

The AAP disagrees when it comes to our children.

“There should be no acceptable level,” Patel said.

Scott McCully, chief operations officer at Guilford County Schools, released the following statement:

"All of the schools tested are within safe water levels. Three schools were retested after remediation for higher test counts. Remediation included a flush sample (water turned on for 15 seconds) and sample after first drawn after faucet replacement. The district also appreciates the partnership with local cities and municipalities toward this effort."

Nora Carr, Guilford County Schools chief of staff, also released a statement Thursday, saying:

"The district is taking steps to ensure that the water is flushed through the system more frequently at our schools as an additional safety measure.

"Water experts told us that the first count at Southeast likely was an error or anomaly/didn’t mean anything as it dropped so quickly

"They do not believe that students at Southeast have been exposed to lead, copper or other harmful substances."

Schools and day cares do not have to test water at the tap. There is no law requiring it. There was a bill in the General Assembly to require that testing at schools built before 1987. It never made it out of committee.

To read Guilford County Schools' report on lead and copper testing, click here.