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New data show lead in drinking water at five more Austin schools

Thursday, May 31, 2018 by Mose Buchele, KUT

Lead has been found in the drinking water of five Austin public schools, new data obtained by Environment Texas from the Austin Independent School District shows. It’s the second time in the past year the toxic metal has been discovered in AISD schools and facilities.

The tests revealed lead at levels considered especially unsafe by the American Academy of Pediatrics in certain taps at Boone and Patton elementary schools, Bailey and Covington middle schools, and Lanier High School. Environment Texas obtained the data through a public information request.

Exposure to lead in children can cause irreversible cognitive and behavioral problems. After the drinking water crisis in Flint, Michigan, pointed a spotlight on lead contamination, AISD decided to test water.

Luke Metzger, the executive director of Environment Austin, said that while the latest results are troubling, it’s good that AISD is doing the tests.

“Unfortunately, there is no state or federal law to require school districts to do anything on this, so it really requires individual school districts to take action,” he said.

AISD would not provide an interview for this story. It did forward KUT a letter it sent to parents and guardians of students at the affected schools.

“We are in the process of replacing or installing a filter” on any water fountain where more than the lowest levels of lead were detected, the school district wrote.

“At this time, all the follow-up testing has shown the levels of lead at the lowest level of 0.001,” it continued.

Last September, lead was found in the water of nine AISD schools and facilities. The district also installed filters and replaced water fountains to get rid of the contamination after that test, while seeming to minimize the threat it posed.

Pointing out that more lead can be found in some bottled water than in the affected taps, the district said at the time that the results “were below levels that would require the (Environmental Protection Agency) to take action.”

“This is based on EPA standards for municipalities that say that action is indicated if 10 percent of tap water samples exceed the level of 15 parts per billion,” the school district said in an announcement.

Metzger says AISD is one of many Texas school districts struggling to keep lead out of its water supply.

“We’ve been collecting testing data from schools around Texas,” he said. “Right now we estimate about 800 schools around the state have tested positive for lead.”

This story was produced as part of the Austin Monitor’s reporting partnership with KUT. Photo by Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon/KUT.

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