High Levels of Lead Found in Tacoma Public Schools

Six schools in the Tacoma school district were found to test positive for higher than acceptable limits for lead in the drinking water. This brings the total number of schools to 13 that will have to hand out bottled water to students as of the end of April.

The Tacoma public schools affected include: Birney, Point Defiance, DeLong, Madison, Manitou Park, Mann, Reed, Stanley, Whitman, Whittier, and Browns Point.

Tacoma Water utility crews had conducted tests a year ago, however, the results were not reviewed by the School District until recently. The Department of Health’s recommended threshold is 20 parts per billion (PPB) for lead.

The school district will now take action at 15 PPB for lead. Tacoma’s School District previous testing protocol used the DoH standard of 20 PPB. The district claims that the water itself is not the problem but rather the faucets and fixtures in the school.

The review found at least one of the schools, Reed, showed elevated levels of lead as high as 2,330 PPB.

Following the discovery of the lead contamination, testing of all Tacoma schools is now underway and will take several weeks to complete.

Prior to the discovery of high levels of lead, the state health department said testing water was voluntary. Tacoma Public Schools started voluntary testing in 2013. The state Board of Health has adopted policies requiring testing, although the State Legislature has not provided adequate funding to implement these rules.

One of the main concerns raised by parents was the possible exposure of children to elevated levels of lead. Children exposed to high levels of lead have an increased risk for cognitive and behavioral problems during development.

According to the Mt. Washington Pediatric Hospital out of Maryland, the variety of effects of lead on the neuropsychological functioning include, but are not limited to: problems with fine and gross motor coordination, delayed general intellectual abilities, learning problems in school (reading, language, math, writing), communication deficits, impulsive, hyperactive behavior, etc.

Superintendent Carla Santorno, stated in an interview that the school district was now focused on finding problems and fixing them. Tacoma Public Schools are now investigating what happened with the only person employed by the district in charge of environmental health and safety.

Blood testing for teachers was brought up by Tacoma Education Association President Angel Morton, and whether or not the district would cover the medical expenses.

The school district spoke with health officials from the Tacoma- Pierce County Health Department. Santorno stated in a previous interview that universal blood testing was unnecessary, according to the Health Department.

Mike Means of the Washington Department of Health said in an interview with KUOW, it was unlikely for children to have dangerous elevated levels of lead in their blood, solely from drinking water at school.

He noted, nationally the number one cause of elevated levels of lead in blood are due to children raised in households whose paint dates back to 1978, when lead in paint was banned.