South Middleton School District could implement a program by the end of this month to test drinking water for lead in all four of its school buildings.
A new state law requires school districts every year to either test water for lead or to convene a public hearing to discuss why they are not testing for lead, said Zach Gump, director of buildings and grounds for South Middleton. He said the Pennsylvania Department of Education has not issued a clear directive on how to conduct the testing.
South Middleton School Board members voted unanimously to authorize the testing of 20 to 25 percent of potable water sources within the district. Gump based this recommendation on what nearby districts are doing and on the advice of Cumberland Analytical, which does air quality testing for South Middleton.
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Cumberland Analytical technicians will collect water samples for South Middleton to pass on to a third-party lab to test, Gump said. This first round of testing will focus on the mains that bring water to each building before heading inside to collect samples from the cafeteria kitchen, nurse’s office and select water fountains.
“We are not testing every water source in the buildings,” Gump said Monday. “The things that we will hit first are the things where students drink the most water.”
The district will record each test result onto a computer mapping program to track what parts of the infrastructure have already been tested. Each year, another 20 to 25 percent of water sources will be tested until the four-to-five year cycle is complete. The cycle would then repeat itself pending any changes to policy or procedure.
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Gump was unable to specify Monday the total number of sources to be tested or the total dollar amount of the first round of tests, which cost $16 to $20 per sample. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has a national drinking water standard of 15 parts of lead per billion.
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Under Act 39 of 2018, if a test for lead exceeds the EPA standard, the district must immediately implement a plan to ensure that no child or adult is exposed to lead contaminated drinking water. Elevated lead totals must be reported to the PDE and will be posted on its website.
Some plumbing materials used in the construction of schools may contain trace amounts of lead in the pipes, solder, faucets and valves, according to the state agency. The longer water remains in contact with leaded plumbing, the more opportunity exists for lead to leach into water and pose a health risk if consumed.
Plumbing installed prior to 1988 has a greater chance of containing lead, Gump said. All four buildings within the district may be served with plumbing that fits that profile.