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Tri-Cities school districts testing water for lead, copper

By Cameron Probert Tri-City Herald

Kennewick schools recently shut off or replaced roughly 54 water faucets and 20 drinking fountains as part of an initial round of tests for lead and copper.

The district follows Pasco and Richland in conducting tests before a state requirement goes into effect for schools to check their water if they are served by a city water system.

Fulcrum Environmental Consulting tested 1,160 fixtures in Kennewick and 1,100 in Pasco for lead and copper.

Richland, working with the city and Energy Northwest, took 70 samples from the district’s 19 buildings, said Mark Panther, executive director of support services.

Lead can build up in a child’s system and cause learning difficulties, irritability, fatigue, vomiting and seizures.

Copper, in high amounts, can cause gastrointestinal illness. Children under a year old or with a condition allowing the metal to accumulate in their body are at the highest risk.

In most cases, copper is necessary in small doses and is flushed out of the body.

As part of the test, Fulcrum created the conditions most likely to cause lead or copper to appear. After running cold water through the faucet or fountain, they placed a bag over the spigot and let it sit overnight. Then they collected the first water out of the faucet the next day.

A laboratory checked the samples to see if they contained more than 15 parts per billion of lead and more than 1,300 parts per billion of copper – the limits suggested by the Environmental Protection Agency.

The Kennewick district released the results for 20 buildings. Sixteen fixtures across five buildings, including Cottonwood and Ridge View elementary schools, Highlands Middle School and the Tri-Tech Skills Center, tested positive for lead.

The district is replacing the fixtures, and conducting a second round of tests.

If the samples come back positive, the district will draw three samples to test the fixture, and the pipes, said Robyn Chastain, the district’s director of communications and public relations.

Fixtures tested positive for copper in 16 of 20 buildings. District officials expect to understand better where the metal is originating once they receive the results for the remaining 12 buildings.

Pasco identified 28 faucets across nine schools suspected of adding lead.

The district is either working on or replacing the faucets at McGee, Franklin and Captain Gray elementary schools, Stevens and McLoughlin middle schools, and Pasco High School.

A second round of tests is being conducted at Whittier and Markham elementary schools.

Cold temperatures led to a delay in finding an available plumber, said Aubrey Pitzer, the district’s safety and risk manager. A contractor was hired, and work is expected to start soon.

“Slowly but surely, we’re getting there,” Pitzer said.

Copper was detected at fixtures in 11 schools, but after flushing the pipes and testing again, the metal disappeared.

“They’re not always flushed as aggressively after construction,” Pitzer said.

Richland School District did not find any problems after its testing, Panther said.

People shouldn’t be concerned that the district found the metals during the tests, said Rick Dawson of the Benton-Franklin Health District. They should be concerned if the district didn’t do anything about it.

“It is much easier to prevent illness than it is to treat it and deal with the consequences,” Dawson said.

Most of the results in Kennewick and Pasco are not high above the threshold for either lead or copper.

If parents are concerned about lead or copper poisoning, Dawson said they should take their child to a doctor.

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