Bozeman, MT schools act to reduce lead in school drinking water, F Grade

Bozeman, MT schools act to reduce lead in school drinking water, F Grade

March 24, 2019– Mary Greeley News – The state of Montana is working on new rules that would require public schools to test drinking water for lead and remove lead sources, rules that could take effect later this year.

EPA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) agree that there is no known safe level of lead in a child’s blood. Lead is harmful to health, especially for children.

The Department of Environmental Quality has been working on the new rules with the Department of Public Health and Human Development, said Karen Ogden, DEQ spokeswoman. The public would have a chance to comment once the proposed rules are released, Ogden said. They wouldn’t require legislative approval.

An environmental advocacy group this week gave the state an F grade for failing to set policies requiring schools to test for lead. Environment Montana’s “Get the Lead Out” study faults the state for inaction to create policies on lead in school drinking water.

Bozeman, MT schools act to reduce lead in school drinking water, F Grade

Young children, infants, and fetuses are particularly vulnerable to lead because the physical and behavioral effects of lead occur at lower exposure levels in children than in adults. A dose of lead that would have little effect on an adult can have a significant effect on a child. In children, low levels of exposure have been linked to damage to the central and peripheral nervous system, learning disabilities, shorter stature, impaired hearing, and impaired formation and function of blood cells.

EPA estimates that drinking water can make up 20 percent or more of a person’s total exposure to lead. Infants who consume mostly mixed formula can receive 40 percent to 60 percent of their exposure to lead from drinking water.

Even low levels of lead in the blood of children can result in:

Behavior and learning problems
Lower IQ and hyperactivity
Slowed growth
Hearing problems

In rare cases, ingestion of lead can cause seizures, coma and even death.

Bozeman, MT schools act to reduce lead in school drinking water, F Grade

Most Montana schools aren’t required to test for lead in drinking water.

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However, many school districts, including Bozeman’s, do test their water.

Environment Montana reported last year that some lead was found in 75 percent of water samples tested by four large school districts — Billings, Great Falls, Missoula and Bozeman.

“Schools should be safe places for our kids to learn and play,” Skye Borden, Environment Montana state director, said in a statement. “Montana needs to do more to protect our kids from the threat of lead in drinking water.”

Bozeman, MT schools act to reduce lead in school drinking water, F Grade

DEQ reported that it has been acting. In 2017 the department encouraged Montana school districts to voluntarily test for lead and sent them the Environmental Protection Agency’s guidance documents for training, testing and acting.

In the 2019 Legislature, DEQ supported House Bill 118, which would have allowed the department to create grants to help schools test for and remove lead, but the bill was tabled in the House Natural Resources Committee.

States and communities should:

Proactively “get the lead out” of schools and child care centers by replacing fountains, faucets and other parts containing lead.

Install and maintain filters certified to remove lead on every faucet or fountain used for cooking and drinking.

Adopt a 1 part per billion (ppb) standard for lead in schools’ drinking water, consistent with recommendations of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Bozeman, MT schools act to reduce lead in school drinking water, F Grade

Require testing at all water outlets used for drinking or cooking at all schools annually, using protocols designed to capture worst-case lead exposure for children.

Immediately remove from service any faucet or fountain used for drinking or cooking where testing indicates lead in the water.

Disclose all available information about lead in water infrastructure, test results and remediation plans/progress both onsite and online.

Provide funding to remove lead in schools’ water infrastructure.

Now, however, DEQ plans to seek a federal grant from the Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation program to help schools pay for lead testing.

Environment Montana’s report highlights the fact that different federal agencies and medical organizations have different standards for how much lead in drinking water they consider safe.

The EPA requires action when lead levels hit 15 parts per billion (ppb).

However, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration allows only 5 ppb of lead in bottled water.

Bozeman, MT schools act to reduce lead in school drinking water, F Grade

Environmentalists point to the American Academy of Pediatrics, which contends “there is no safe level” of lead in children. Lead poisoning can affect children’s brains permanently and cause behavior problems and learning disabilities.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control also says that no safe blood lead level in children has been identified.

Ogden said the proposed level in the draft DEQ rules would be 5 ppb.

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While Bozeman schools’ drinking water is far below the EPA’s 15 ppb standard, Environment Montana points out that at least some lead has been detected in recent years in 13 of Bozeman schools’ 19 samples.

Steve Johnson, Bozeman school’s deputy superintendent, said Friday that the school district does annual water sampling for lead. He released results of 2018 tests.

“As you can see, all our results are well below the national standard,” Johnson wrote. “That said, we have changed out fountains and faucets with results above our average.”

Bozeman, MT schools act to reduce lead in school drinking water, F Grade

The school district replaced seven drinking fountains last summer, Johnson said.

“We don’t have any lead pipes,” he said. “Lead could only come from service lines or fountains. … Even though every faucet and fountain sold today is supposed to be lead free, some are not.”

The Bozeman district’s report from June 2018 shows less than 1 ppb of lead detected in 22 of the 28 samples taken at Bozeman schools.

The three highest readings were 5 ppb at a faucet in Bozeman High School’s South Cafeteria, 4 ppb at a faucet in Sacajawea Middle School’s cafeteria and 3 ppb at a food preparation faucet in the Support Services building, which prepares cafeteria food to deliver to schools throughout the district.

Among older school buildings, where lead tends to show up, lead levels were 1 ppb or less at Hawthorne, Longfellow, Irving and Willson schools, and at Bozeman High’s fountains by the north classroom attendance office, north cafeteria and Long Hall music area. Whittier School had 2 ppb at a faucet and an old fountain.

Borden said Bozeman schools’ lead levels were low compared to other large school districts in the state, possibly because so many of Bozeman’s school buildings are newer.

Families concerned about lead in homes are encouraged to let the water run for up to two minutes before using it for drinking, and to use cold water.

The city of Bozeman’s annual water report says there is no lead in the city’s water supplies. When lead is detected in homes, it comes from old supply lines or old in-home pipes. The city identified 170 old lead service lines, less than 2 percent in the city, and replaced those over the EPA action limit. The city’s goal is to replace all old lead service lines by late 2019 or early 2020.

Mary Greeley News

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