Routine testing uncovered high lead levels in water fixtures at Kopachuck Middle School and Voyager Elementary School in Gig Harbor, families learned Thursday.
A message from the Peninsula School District sent to parents noted the problems were isolated to one water fixture in each school and that the fixtures have been replaced.
The district learned Monday about problems with one drinking water fixture at Kopachuck, in the northeast hallway off the commons, and at one sink in the music room office at Voyager.
The issue is not with the school’s water supply or pipes, Kathy Weymiller, community outreach director, said in the message.
“Based on the type of testing, results identified specific problematic fixtures,” the message stated.
Weymiller said the school district plans to do broader testing across both buildings and will continue to monitor water quality.
Both fixtures were immediately taken out of service. They were removed and replaced. The new fixtures are being retested to assure lead levels return to acceptable levels before they are returned to service.
The action level for lead in drinking water set by the state Department of Health, which is based on federal rules, is 15 parts per billion.
The fixture at Kopachuck tested at 19 parts per billion, while the music-room office sink at Voyager tested at 41 parts per billion.
Mike Means, deputy director of operations for the state health department’s Office of Drinking Water, said that while those levels might sound alarming, toxicologists don’t believe exposure from the fixtures would cause a great risk to individual students.
Lead exposure is dangerous for children and can cause brain and kidney problems.
There are many sources of lead in the environment, including lead-based paint in old buildings or on old toys, soil contaminated by industrial operations such as the Asarco smelter, formerly in Ruston, and more.
Means said water samples are taken in a “worst-case scenario” situation, during the first flush after water has been sitting in the fixture for at least six hours. Subsequent samples taken after the tap runs would show lower concentrations, he said.
A single well serves Kopachuck and Voyager. The small water system is owned by the Peninsula School District and managed for the district by the Peninsula Light Co.
Since 1997, the water system has been regularly monitored for lead. In 2003, tests showed lead was above the federal action level, the school district reported.
The school district replaced fixtures and, in 2006, Peninsula Light installed anti-corrosion treatment. Since 2010, the water system has been tested every three years.
Means said a two-pronged approach is needed to correct the problem: removing and replacing the faulty fixtures; and treating the water to be less corrosive, thereby lessening its ability to leach lead into the water supply.
As a result of this week’s findings, he said, the water system will be tested every six months. After two back-to-back “clean” results on the six-month cycle, testing can be carried out annually.
After two acceptable annual tests, the sampling can return to its three-year cycle.