Staff at Templeton shuts off drinking fountains, faucets

by: TIMES PHOTO: JAIMES VALDEZ - Students at Templeton Elementary School wont be using the water fountain for a drink at lunch. The school has installed water coolers and bottled water dispensers after elevated lead levels were found in the schools water supply.Thirsty students at James Templeton Elementary School are drinking bottled water for the immediate future, after school officials announced last week that the school’s drinking water was contaminated with elevated levels of lead.

But while the news came as a shock to parents and students, the district has been aware of the problem since 2010.

Now, some parents are wondering why officials waited nearly three years before informing the public.

View the district's latest information about Templeton's water issue here, and the most recent water survey results and analysis

Concerned parents attended a special meeting Tuesday night to get some answers on how the school is fixing the situation, and whether or not they should be concerned after their children spent years drinking from the school’s drinking fountains and washing their hands in school sinks.

Parents were first notified of the problem on Feb. 20 in a letter sent home to parents by Interim Superintendent Roger Rada.

Rada said the district had “periodically tested the drinking water at Templeton.”

The district began testing in March 2010 after discolored water was discovered in one faucet. Tests showed that water had higher lead levels than recommended, prompting the school to begin regular testing.

In the past three years, the school continued to test, finding faucets with higher than recommended lead levels 11 times between March 2010 and October 2012.

On at least one occasion in August 2010, while students were away on summer break, the lead levels found in one classroom faucet were nearly four times higher than the Environmental Protection Agency recommends.

Ernie Brown, the district’s director of operations, said that after the initial discovery, the school has flushed the water system to clear out any contaminants.

Every day before school, staff would run every faucet in the building for at least one minute, Brown said.

But those measures didn’t alleviate the concerns of many parents, who said they should have been informed years ago.

“It was discovered in 2010, but I think that it has probably been going on for longer,” said parent Kristi Kletzel. “I would like to know that I had a choice for my son.”

Brown said the district didn’t alert families right away because the lead levels fluctuated greatly during testing.

“The results that we were getting from the tests were very inconsistent,” he said, “And that’s why we continued testing and continued flushing. When we thought we had the information that would allow us to move forward, we did.”

How dangerous is it?

by: TIMES PHOTO: JAIMES VALDEZ - Templeton is one of the oldest schools in the district, opening in 1965. The district said it would be testing the water quality at all of its older schools after lead was found in Templetons water supply.Health officials with the state and the county said the health risk to staff or students at the school is low.

Lead in water is measured in parts per billion, said Joyce Tsuji, a toxicologist with Exponent, a science consulting firm that is working with the school to address the issue.

The EPA recommends that lead levels in water not exceed about 20 parts per billion.

In the past three years, when water was used throughout the day, the highest lead level was 43 parts per billion, above the recommended parts per billion, but not overly dangerous, Tsuji said.

“The exposure that any one person might have is relatively low,” Tsuji said. “Kids don’t drink all their water from school faucets and not from the same faucet and not all ‘first-draw’ water (unflushed water sitting in the pipes).”

The August 2010 test found one classroom faucet with lead levels at 94 parts per billion.

The summertime high was a fluke because the water had been left sitting in the taps all summer, Tsuji said.

Jennifer Vines, a health officer with Washington County’s Department of Health and Human Services told parents at Tuesday’s meeting that increased lead levels in water have never been linked to lead poisoning in Oregon.

It’s unlikely that any student or staff member would get sick from the water, especially if the taps were flushed every morning, Vines said. She recommended that concerned parents speak with their healthcare provider about getting their children tested.

Faucets in bathrooms and in dishwashers should not pose a risk to students, as lead cannot be absorbed through the skin, Tsuji added.

What is being done?

Tsuji said the school took positive preventative steps with flushing the water each morning and installing bottled water dispensers and water coolers throughout the building.

“We are talking about children, and we want to be preventative toward lead exposure,” Tsuji said. “The school, I think, is taking the appropriate steps.”

One parent said the district’s flushing was little more than a “Band-Aid” on a much larger problem.

Brown said the school took additional short-term steps to alleviate the problem since last week’s announcement. District leaders are looking at what they can do to permanently fix the problem.

The school on Friday installed more than 30 large water dispensers and shut off drinking water in the building.

Brown said the school is looking into installing water filters on every faucet in the building as a possible solution.

In the meantime, kitchen staff is using bottled water for cooking and food preparations until the new filters are installed and tested.

The exact cause of the problem is unclear, Brown said, but the school is working to find out the source of the contaminant as quickly as possible.

Brown said installing filters would likely take care of the issue.

Templeton, which opened in 1965, is one of the oldest schools in the district.

School district officials plan to begin district-wide testing at schools built before 1986, when lead was more common in construction.

Schools in line for water testing include Tigard High School, the Durham Center, Twality Middle School, Fowler Middle School and Mary Woodward Elementary School.

In the meantime, Templeton will continue testing and will post results on the school website.

“We are not going to pull the temporary measures, like the (water coolers) or water dispensers until we have shown that the solutions are at a level that everyone will accept,” Brown said.

Brown and other district officials admitted parents should have been contacted about the levels earlier.

“Moving forward, everything we do on this issue is going to be shared,” Brown said. “We understand that we need to build a high level of confidence in the entire Templeton community as we go forward and implement a long-term solution.”

Contract Publishing

Go to top
Template by JoomlaShine