Four Aberdeen schools shut off water due to elevated lead levels

The Aberdeen School District has shut off tap water at four schools after finding slightly high levels of lead through voluntary tests facilitated by the state Department of Health. The move affects Central Park, A.J. West and Stevens Elementary, and the Hopkins Building, which houses both its preschool and Harbor High. These were the four schools recommended by the state for testing, based on their age.

In a news release, Superintendent Alicia Henderson said she wanted to take immediate action even though the tests are considered preliminary.

“The safety of our students and staff is our primary concern,” Henderson said. “As a precaution, we are turning the drinking water off at the tap until we receive more complete results for all of the schools tested.”

Students were provided with either bottled water or access to water bottle filling stations. In addition water is being brought in for use in the kitchens, Dr. Henderson said.

Friday afternoon, Henderson said the measures will remain in place until water testing results are available from the state. State officials are working to expedite results for all four schools and she is hopeful to have results next week. “Once those results are known, we can determine next steps,” she said, adding that additional testing is more than likely.

The district has purchased a lead testing system and found that the newer, water bottle filling stations set up in some of the schools are clean to use. Those have been turned back on.

Henderson said she is currently looking to replace the older sink faucets that may have caused the higher levels of lead, but isn’t sure how long that will take.

Henderson said in performing these tests, samplers took the very first draw of water from the taps after it had been sitting overnight. This technique, according to the state Department of Health, is designed to find the highest levels of lead. After the tap has been used a few times the lead concentration likely goes down.

In a news release, Henderson provided some background on the state tests. In 2017, the Legislature directed the Department of Health to test drinking water in public schools to reduce lead amounts. The department is planning to test approximately 500 public elementary schools over the 2017-2019 biennium. Henderson said the oldest buildings are at greatest risk for higher lead concentrations.