By: Michael Campbell | Twitter: @itsthesoup
Posted: June 6, 2019 | 12:30 p.m.
Despite improvement, EI Group recommends replacement of one sink at North ES
PRINCE GEORGE – After elevated lead levels were found in two dozen different drinking water samples at several Prince George schools and an administrative building, recent remediation efforts seems to have addressed many of the issues as retesting saw the vast majority of those problem locations return acceptable readings.
In May, Prince George County Public Schools shared the results of a second wave of drinking water tests that targeted over two dozen different water fixtures where samples were found to contain higher than acceptable levels of lead during an earlier round of testing.
In late April, a letter was sent home to parents detailing The EI Group’s findings following a series of tests at all of the county’s school, administrative, and maintenance buildings earlier in the month. While samples collected from L.L. Beazley and Walton elementary schools, Prince George Education Center, the bus garage, field house, concession stand, the school division’s maintenance building, and the school board office were found to be “within acceptable ranges” for lead based on state health regulations, 26 samples were found to have lead levels that exceeded that acceptable range out of over 300 total samples, with most buildings, particularly school facilities, averaging a total of over three dozen samples collected.
According to documents from The EI Group provided by the school division, N.B. Clements Junior High School, Prince George High School, Moore Middle School, Harrison Middle School, North and South Elementary, and the school system’s transportation office all had at least one sample from a water fixture test outside of acceptable levels during the April testing
Both Clements and the high school had the highest amount of samples test for higher than acceptable lead levels with six. At the junior high school, all of the problem samples were tied to six different eyewash stations, The EI Group’s documentation showed, with one sample, “Eyewash Station Room 226,” registering at 5,190 parts per billion for lead, well above the Environmental Protection Agency’s maximum contaminant level for lead in drinking water of 15 parts per billion.
Of all the samples collected across all buildings, “Eyewash Station Room 226” at Clements had the highest lead concentration.
According to the results from the latest round of retesting on the eyewash stations at Clements, all but one station didn’t exceed that contamination level, with Room 226’s eyewash station still registering 68.7 ppb, which is well below the nearly 5,200 ppb measured during the April testing.
“Sample analysis indicated that high lead levels were found in the Room 226 Eyewash Station,” the report dated May 20 detailed. “It is important to note that variations in lead concentration may be found among individual outlets in a building due to differences in the flow rates of those outlets, or the building materials used,” adding, “As long as the eyewash stations are not used for drinking or cooking,” The EI Group “doesn’t recommend any further action” aside from flushing the station’s based on manufacturer’s instructions on a weekly to monthly basis.
At Prince George High, their six samples of concern were focused on a variety of sinks in the building, with the “Room B8 Sink” sample having the largest concentration of lead in the building at 311 ppb of lead, while the other five sinks measured as low as 18.6 ppb to 152 ppb.
According to the latest survey of the school on May 10, the “Room B8 Sink,” along with seven other locations were below the threshold, with the Room B8 Sink measuring a 14.5 ppb, down from the 311 ppb measured in April, but still close to the 15 ppb guideline.
Their survey did find the “Room B2 and B4 Storage Room Sink” sample to be above that 15 ppb lead threshold, measuring at 31.6 parts per billion. According to the April report, that location was not among the nearly 50 samples collected at that time.
“Based on the high lead levels found at the sink located in the B2 & B4 Storage Room, EI recommends follow-up flush sampling in order to pinpoint the source (fixtures, or interior plumbing) of the sink’s water contamination,” the company said in their report to the school division, adding “If the sink located in Room B2 and B4 Storage is not used for drinking or cooking purposes, EI has no further recommendations regarding lead in water sampling for Prince George High School at this time.”
Moore Middle School, along with Harrison and North elementary schools each had four of their samples measure over EPA’s acceptable lead contamination level of 15 ppb, with all of Moore’s problem samples being tied to eyewash stations, with levels ranging from as low as 15.1 ppb to as high as 20.4.
May’s re-testing denoted the eyewash stations differently but, in their sampling, two of the stations remained above acceptable levels for lead, with the “B Wing Room 115 Eyewash Station” sample measuring at 17.1 ppb for lead, while the “A Wing Room A15 Eyewash Station” saw a lead contamination measurement of 196 ppb. The EI Group provided the same guidance as they did at Prince George High and Clements Junior High, not recommending any further action aside from regular flushing of the fixtures.
At North Elementary, while a pair of samples were just over the threshold at 17 ppb, sinks in Room 217 and 222 were measured at 31.2 ppb and 41.3 ppb, respectively.
This month, Room 222 sink’s sample measured at 2.27 ppb, well below the 41.3 ppb that same location measured in April but, Room 217 sink’s sample saw lead concentration increase from 31.2 ppb in last month, to 155 ppb as of May 10. The other two sinks of note, in Rooms 128 and 212, had lead levels below 1.0 ppb.
In their report, The EI Group recommended the complete replacement of the drinking water fixture inside Room 217, adding “EI further recommends that this fixture not be used until [the] replacement of the drinking water fixture and follow-up flush sampling has been completed.”
At Harrison Elementary, three of the four problem samples were listed as “fountains” by The EI Group during their April collection, likely referring to drinking fountains in the school. Of those three fountains, the sample collected at the “Fountain by Book Room and Room 102” had the highest lead concentration in the building at 61.1 ppb, while two others had lower levels between 18.4 and 26 ppb, respectively. A sample collected from the school’s “copy room sink” was found to also be above acceptable levels at 26.7 ppb.
During May’s retesting, all four locations’ samples collected at Harrison, along with two fountains in Rooms 209 and 211 at South Elementary School were found to be well within acceptable levels following flushing activities.
The school division’s transportation office, of their three samples, had one that exceeded acceptable levels, with a second-floor kitchen sink that was tested found to have a lead contaminant level of 31.7 ppb, but results for that facility’s follow-up testing were not available on the PGCPS’ website at the time of this report’s production.
While eyewash stations and some sinks in some school rooms were identified as having higher than acceptable levels, none of The EI Group’s analysis found increased levels of lead in cafeteria-area sinks they measured and the vast majority of fountains tested by the company were found to be within acceptable levels. Notably, of the nearly 220 samples listed by The EI Group as having originated from fountains in April, only five, three at Harrison Elementary and two at South Elementary, were measured as having levels that exceeded acceptable levels, roughly one percent of all sampled fountains.
In addition, of the nearly 350 samples collected at the school buildings, where students are more likely to be present, 26 of those samples exceeded acceptable levels or just over seven percent.
Following their retesting, of the over two dozen samples collected across six buildings, five exceeded acceptable levels and none were found to have a level of contamination as high as the “Eyewash Station Room 226” at Clements in April, which registered at 5,190 parts per billion for lead. The highest level measured during the May retest was at Moore Middle’s A-Wing Room A15 Eyewash Station at 196 ppb.
After the results came in from the initial testing in April, school officials told parents that those fixtures where problem samples were collected were closed off to allow for remediation, with The EI Group providing those recommendations to the school division, including “follow-up flush sampling in order to pinpoint the source (fixtures, or interior plumbing) of each sink and fountain’s water contamination.”
“Steps to correct were enacted as soon as we received the initial testing results for each building,” Pennycuff detailed. “Any area that was above the EPA’s acceptable level was marked not to use, covered and if needed, bottled water supplied. We have followed the recommendations of The EI Group, Inc. to correct any such areas.”
In terms of costs associated with the lead testing, re-testing, and remediation efforts, Pennycuff said prior to the latest results’ release last week, it was “too soon” to determine as the school division is “waiting on the retesting result to determine if further action is necessary.”
Division-wide testing like this is occurring in localities across the commonwealth after lawmakers in 2017 signed legislation that required local school systems to “develop and implement a plan to test for led, and if necessary, remediate potable water from sources identified by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as high priority for testing, including bubbler-style and cooler-style drinking fountains, cafeteria or kitchen taps, classroom combination sinks and drinking fountains, and sinks known to be or visibly used for consumption.”
The dangers of lead are underscored in The EI Group’s report to the school division, where they say, “Lead is a toxic metal that is detrimental to human health. There is no known value of lead for the human body. Lead can remain in the bloodstream and bodily organs for up to a few months.”
Currently, there are no federal laws that require the testing of drinking water for lead in schools but, thanks to Virginia’s actions in 2017, the Commonwealth is among 15 states and the District of Columbia to either require or encourage some form of testing.
In regards to the results at Prince George Schools’ facility, questions regarding the testing can be directed to Ron Rhodes, the school division’s director or operations at 804-733-2700.