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Lead in school's water report result of improper testing

Water systems serving local schools show clean records

Water quality results
In south Columbia County, only one school has tested positive for high lead concentrations in the drinking water in the last four years, and the results were generated by improper testing methods, according to a public health official.

On March 23, the Statesman Journal newspaper in Salem reported 10 schools in Oregon had high levels of lead in the drinking water over the past four years, including the Scappoose Adventist School in 2013.

The Environmental Protection Agency considers lead in concentrations greater than 15 parts per billion, or ppb, to be high.

In November 2013, one bathroom sink at Scappoose Adventist was found to have concentrations of 30 ppb, twice the acceptable level.

Sherrie Ford, director of the Public Health Foundation of Columbia County, said the high result was caused by a sampling error. When the test was conducted in December, the school had likely been out of session, she explained. Water should be used on a regular basis, then allowed to sit for six hours, before it is tested, she said, a step that was likely overlooked.

Ford said drinking water systems should be flushed prior to use if they have been sitting dormant in older pipes.

   A water test in January 2014 at Scappoose Adventist, after the sink had been properly flushed, returned no detectable levels of lead.

In a December 2015 test, the private school reported concentrations of 7 parts per billion coming from one water source, still below EPA action level.

For comparison, the most recent testing of other school districts’ water systems, like the St. Helens School District and Sauvie Island Academy, showed results of 2 to 3 ppb of lead from 2010 to 2014. Only the Scappoose city water system, which provides drinking water to the Scappoose School District, reported no levels of lead in the water in 2011 or 2014.

Kim Cornette, the sixth- through eighth-grade teacher and principal at Scappoose Adventist, was hired at the start of the 2015 school year. To the best of her knowledge, Cornette said no pipes had been replaced in the school since she has been hired, and said the water source that tested high for lead in 2013 has returned satisfactory in all following tests.

“What I can tell you is that if we discovered now that we had lead issues, we would have no problem providing bottled water for our students, if that was necessary. Right now we’re in full compliance with lead,” Cornette said.

The Scappoose Adventist school relies on a private well, whereas most public schools rely on municipal water systems. Cornette said she is looking into whether or not the school can tap into the city water system.

The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality does not require water quality reports to be filed regularly for private or domestic well water systems. Individuals are responsible for testing their water, a requirement when property is sold.

However, when Scappoose Adventist established an after-school care program and preschool in 2013, it fell under the regulatory watch of Oregon Drinking Water Services, a program overseen by the Oregon Health Authority. As such, it is required to test drinking water for safety.