A small proportion of sinks and water fountains in Denver, Jeffco and Cherry Creek schools have been taken out of service because of high lead levels found after school district testing in the summer and fall.
So far, results are back for one-third of Denver schools, mostly elementaries. They show that about 4 percent of samples came back high. Some schools have no sinks or fountains with elevated lead levels, while others — such as Greenlee Elementary and Denver Montessori Junior/Senior High School — have four or five.
“We haven’t really found anything alarming,” said Joni Rix, environmental services manager for DPS. “Certainly we’ve found lead, but it’s not widespread.”
Fixes, which are expected to cost around $500,000, will happen at every school with elevated lead levels, she said.
That’s not the case in Jeffco, where testing revealed that about 80 percent of schools have at least one sink or water fountain with high lead levels.
While smaller fixes have been or will be made, district officials say voters’ rejection of the district’s $535 million bond issue earlier this month will make extensive plumbing repairs impossible.
“If it’s any kind of big fix it’s probably not going to happen,” said district spokeswoman Diana Wilson. “It’s probably going to be easier to shut some sinks down.”
In Cherry Creek, where testing was conducted this fall, some schools had elevated levels. In most cases, fixes have already been made, though more systemic problems surfaced at the 1980s-era Creekside Elementary. Water samples from 10 locations in the school had elevated lead levels and samples from most other locations also showed some lead, though not above the federal limit.
District spokeswoman Tustin Amole said via email that students there are drinking bottled water until repairs can be completed — probably over winter break.
The risk of lead poisoning from school water is relatively low, according to experts in Colorado. Still, they say school officials are right to be aware of it given that high lead levels can severely impair children’s physical and mental development.
School districts aren’t required to test their water for lead unless they’re considered public water systems. (That’s the case in some rural districts and on a limited basis in Jeffco, which provides water to six mountain schools.)
Still, in the wake of the lead-poisoning crisis in Flint, Mich., last year, Colorado’s five largest school districts all decided to test their water.
Douglas County School District launched its effort last spring at 19 older schools, and had no samples above the federal 15-parts-per-billion threshold, according to district records provided to Chalkbeat last summer.
Jeffco began districtwide lead-testing in June and Denver followed in August. In Jeffco, testing is now complete save for a small number of re-tests in locations where fixes have been made.
Aurora Public Schools began testing school water in October, and so far results are available for two early childhood centers, according to the district’s lead-testing web page. Neither have elevated lead levels.
Results for the remaining two-thirds of Denver’s schools will be back by the end of January. Rix said she expects a similar proportion of those samples — 4 to 5 percent — to have elevated levels. All told, district staff collected more than 4,000 water samples this fall.
Starting this Saturday, DPS will also test some schools’ service lines — the pipes that run from buildings to the city’s water mains under the street — to determine whether they are made of lead. That testing, which involves drilling into the ground to reach the service lines, will start at Newlon, Cowell, Goldrick, Schmitt and Knapp elementary schools.
The five, all built in the 1950s, are among 69 district schools that may have their service lines tested this year. The $572 million bond Denver voters passed earlier this month will provide $800,000 to replace lead service lines.
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that Cory Elementary in Denver was among schools with four to five sinks or water fountains showing high lead levels. It had only one water fountain with elevated lead levels.