The water from a faucet at Apache Junction High School tested positive Feb. 8 for high levels of lead and was shut off at one building, according to the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality.
A spreadsheet that can be downloaded at http://azdeq.gov/node/2194 shows the water was shut off to a building at AJHS, 2525 S. Ironwood Drive, when the screening sample result was above a screening level.
Lead levels were not above the screening level for the Feb. 3 test at Cactus Canyon Junior High School (named changed in 2010 from Desert Shadows Middle School), 801 W. Southern Ave.; Feb. 3 test at Desert Vista Elementary School, 3701 E. Broadway Ave.; Feb. 7 test at Four Peaks Elementary School, 1785 N. Idaho Road; Feb. 4 test at Mountain Shadows Education Center, 2805 S. Ironwood Road; or Feb. 7 at Peralta Trail Elementary School, 10965 E. Peralta Road in Gold Canyon, according to the spreadsheet.
Parents of students were notified via e-mail on Feb. 23 by the public relations coordinator for the Apache Junction Unified School District. The e-mail said, “Good afternoon, parents and guardians. This is Dana Hawman-Trumbull, public relations coordinator for the Apache Junction Unified School District. We want to make you aware of a situation on the high school campus. In a recent routine visit by ADEQ, one faucet in the old science building tested above the normal level for lead. Other faucets served by the same water line did not have abnormal readings, so we believe the anomaly to be localized. Nonetheless, water to the affected building has been turned off while we conduct further tests to determine the actual cause for the elevated readings (old faucet, lead welding on the copper pipes, etc.). Please be assured, students’ health is not/has not been endangered by the higher than normal lead content as the building has no operable water fountains and no other location tested above acceptable levels. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the water is safe for handwashing and toileting, as human skin does not absorb lead from water (see attached FAQs). As we move forward, we will keep you updated on the status of the necessary corrections. As always, the safety of our students and staff is our top priority. Thank you for your support.”
The FAQs were from the Arizona Department of Health Services and were titled “Arizona Public School Drinking Water Lead Screening Program Top 10 List: Things to Know If Elevated Lead Levels Are Detected in Your School Water.”
Mrs. Hawman-Trumbull said in an e-mailed response to questions that parents were notified two ways.
“Yes, I sent a parent notification via both telephone and e-mail to all AJUSD families on Feb. 23, making them aware of the ADEQ findings,” she said. “The AJUSD Governing Board and staff were notified immediately prior to the parent release.”
Developments since the notice went out, according to Mrs. Hawman-Trumbull:
•With guidance from the Arizona School Facilities Board, the district contracted Western Technologies, an engineering and environmental consulting firm, to perform tests on eight additional samples taken from four water taps in the affected building. Samples were taken from each of four faucets, lines were then flushed and four more samples were taken from the same taps. These tests will confirm or expand the findings from the original samples. Results should be received within the next few days.
•According to the AJUSD maintenance operations supervisor, Larry Hill, the water line that serves the affected building also serves several other buildings, all of which tested clean. Because of this, advisors do not believe that the lead contamination comes from the water source. The building next to the old science building, which was constructed during the same time period, tested clean, so it seems unlikely that lead solder was used on the copper pipes during construction. “By process of elimination, that brings us to the faucet itself. The additional tests will either confirm our assumptions or guide us to the next step,” Mrs. Hawman-Trumbull said in the e-mail.
Once the source of the lead is pinpointed and confirmed, the Arizona School Facilities Board will fund the necessary repairs. Mr. Hill has also submitted a building renewal grant request to the school facilities board, which would pay for the additional tests through Western Technologies, she said in the e-mail.
“It is important to note that students are not, nor have they ever been in any danger from the higher than normal lead content found in the one faucet from the one building. All drinking fountains and the cafeteria have tested clean, and, according to ADEQ, water containing lead is safe for washing hands, toileting and even cleaning wounds, because lead is not absorbed through the skin,” Mrs. Hawman-Trumbull said in the e-mail. “The findings have nothing to do with the city’s water source,” she said.
The city of Apache Junction was contacted when lead was found in the drinking water at the high school, Al Bravo, city public information officer, said in an e-mailed reply to questions.
“I know the school district sent us the letter they sent to parents when it was found. We shared that with the mayor and council as well as the water district,” he said of the Apache Junction Water District.
The high school gets its water from Arizona Water Co., according to a map at www.azwater.com/communities/community-map. The coverage map is at http://www.azwater.com/files/area-maps/apache_Junction_ccn_91109.pdf.
“Arizona Water Co. does supply drinking water to the Apache Junction High School. Yes, Arizona Water was notified by ADEQ of the high lead result at the Apache Junction High School,” Regina Lynde, Arizona Water Co. environmental compliance manager, said in an e-mailed response to questions. “No, Arizona Water is not and has not been asked by the Apache Junction School District to help them locate or fix the sink that had elevated lead levels. Apache Junction School District has not contacted Arizona Water asking for assistance. The school should be coordinating with their school board, the Arizona School Facilities Board and ADEQ to determine the extent of the problem and the next steps. Arizona Water sampled the drinking water in its Apache Junction service area in 2016 and all results comply with the Safe Drinking Water Standards and were under the action level,” she said.
The number of public school buildings to sample as part of the six-month statewide screening program for lead in drinking water approaches 7,000, according to the ADEQ website. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s standards for lead content in plumbing materials and fixtures underwent significant improvements in 1987, with the intention of reducing the potential for lead contamination of drinking water. Therefore, ADEQ, in consultation with Arizona Department of Health Services, the Arizona School Facilities Board and the Arizona Department of Education, focused the screening program on school buildings constructed prior to 1987, before the more protective construction standards went into effect. The screening program also includes schools located in areas ADHS has identified as at high-risk for childhood lead poisoning, as well as schools with schools educating children five years of age and younger. Because lead in drinking water may not be a problem limited to older buildings, the screening program also will include a limited number of newer school buildings constructed per the current lead plumbing requirements to verify the standards are in fact protective and not impacting drinking water, according to the website.
ADEQ is funding the screening program in an effort to collect and test 14,000 drinking water samples from 7,000 school buildings statewide, according to http://azdeq.gov/LeadScreeningProg.
“Lead contamination may be present in school drinking water even when a school’s water provider is in compliance with the federal lead drinking water standard of 15 parts of lead per billion parts of water (15 ppb). School drinking water may become contaminated as water moves through a school’s plumbing system where lead from materials and fixtures, such as water fountains, faucets and water heaters, may leach into the water. The risk of lead leaching increases with intermittent water use (e.g., schools often are closed on weekends and have several extended school breaks throughout the year when water lines are not being flushed),” according to the website.
“In Arizona, the most commonly known sources of lead include lead-based paint in older homes, some household products including antique or imported toys, antique furniture, imported spices and candies, “home remedies” and lead-glazed pottery used for cooking. While drinking water is not considered to be a common source of lead in Arizona, eliminating exposure to lead in drinking water is an important step in reducing a child’s overall exposure to lead in the environment,” according to the website.
Managing Editor Richard Dyer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org