IDAHO FALLS – Bonneville High School shut off its drinking fountains after a test a week ago found a high level of lead in the water in a home economics room.
The district tested several of the school’s water sources as part of regular testing at all of the schools that are on wells and found a lead level of 35 parts per billion in the water in a sink in a home economics room, said John Pymm, director of maintenance and operations for Bonneville Joint School District 93. The level that is considered safe is 15 parts per billion.
Pymm said lead levels in that sink may have been high since it hadn’t been used for several weeks.
“If you do have any chance of even a little bit of lead contamination and the water just sits in there for weeks at a time, that’s going to magnify,” he said.
Merrill Hemming, environmental health specialist with Eastern Idaho Public Health, said the district took 10 samples from various water sources at the school mid-to-late June, getting back the results on July 3. Of them, three from the home economics area came back with elevated lead levels.
“It’s hard to say right now,” Hemming said about the source of the lead. “They are running tests to determine how corrosive the water is, but there (are) a number of different factors that could play into that.”
The tests in other areas of the school came back normal. After finding the high lead levels, the district notified the state Department of Environmental Quality and immediately took samples from three drinking fountains. Pymm said he is waiting to see what those tests show.
In addition to the three samples that were taken after the initial high-lead result came back, the DEQ requires the district to perform 18 more tests within the next six months, including one on the well itself. Pymm said the district plans to perform them immediately. This, he said, well help determine whether the problem is with a particular fixture or with something else in the school’s water system. In six months, the district will be required to do 21 more tests at the school.
“They are collecting samples from other parts of the school to see if there is lead throughout the building or just isolated to the home ec area,” Hemming said. “They are also running tests to determine corrosiveness, or how aggressive the water is.” (Aggressive water is water that corrodes piping and appliances.)
How to handle the problem will depend on the source. If it is traced to a specific fixture containing lead, that could be replaced. If it is a problem with the well, Pymm said the district could install a conditioning system that would remove the lead.
In the meantime, the drinking water is off but the building is in use over the summer for summer school and various sports clinics and camps. Pymm said the district is supplying bottled water to the summer school students and employees who have to be there, and he has asked the district’s athletic director to contact the other groups to tell them to bring their own water. The toilets and sinks still work.
“The lead in the water is not going to cause (anyone) any problems if they wash their hands or something like that,” Pymm said
Hemming said it’s up to the district when to turn the water fountains back on. He said he expects the results of the other samples to be back in two to three weeks.
Rocky Mountain Middle School, Telford Academy and Fairview Elementary School are also on wells, Pymm said. He said testing there hasn’t revealed any issues. The district is required to test for lead every three years, and Hemming said the 2015 tests at Bonneville didn’t show elevated lead levels.