High Lead Levels in Water Affected Dozens of NC Schools

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (CN) – Unnerving North Carolina parents as they prepare to send their children back to school next month, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools has reported that drinking water at least 24 of its schools showed high lead levels last year.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools undertook the testing of its 58 schools voluntarily in September and November 2017.

It began posting the results from each school on its website Monday, reporting that at least 26 contained lead at or above the action-level of 15 parts per billion. Some locations meanwhile had lead levels as high as 70 parts per billion.

Assuring families that the water is safe now, CMS spokeswoman Renee McCoy said that the schools replaced the fixtures that caused the problem.

“The lead found came from the fixtures, not the water,” McCoy said in a statement.

A statement posted to the CMS website Tuesday echoes this point, noting that “no water quality issues have been found that affect entire schools.”

“In schools tested, some repairs or replacements have been made to specific fixtures (faucets, spigots, water bubblers), many of them unused for long periods of time or in areas inaccessible to students,” CMS said in a statement Tuesday. “All repairs or replacements have been made based on the guidance of independent experts.”

McCoy also emphasized that the amount of lead found even at action levels is not considered to be harmful.

Tests on other nearby schools are planned for this year.

For the study, the district focused on points of consumption such as kitchen sinks, water fountains and ice machines. It prioritized schools that were built before 1986, the year Congress banned lead water pipes. With the school-year soon to begin, about 32 schools built before that date are waiting to be tested.

North Carolina is not included in the mere eight states that require school districts to test levels of lead in drinking water.  In many states where it is required, it often takes the form of unfunded mandates.

“CMS did this as a voluntary action by asking a third party group to test the water at certain schools,” McCoy said. The lead level tests were a proactive measure and not reactionary to any prior concerns.

Lead is especially harmful to children. Those with elevated blood lead levels of 10 micrograms per deciliter may suffer adverse effects on their learning abilities. Higher levels can cause increased learning disabilities, behavioral problems, slowed growth and kidney damage.

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