State-mandated tests of drinking water in public schools found high levels of lead in Alcoa and Blount County buildings.

A law that took effect this year requires districts to test all sources of drinking water in schools built before 1998 and to remove the source from service if lead exceeds 20 parts per billion.

Alcoa City Schools found 16 sources with lead higher than 20 ppb, most in the middle school and a few in the Vernon Osborne Gym, Director Brian Bell said in an email response to The Daily Times.

Blount County School found three sources above the limit — one each at Fairview, Lanier and Middlesettlements elementary schools — but has tested only five buildings so far, according to Troy Logan, the district’s fiscal administrator

No drinking fountains recently used by students were among the 19 sites in the two districts.

Maryville City Schools tested all of its schools, and no remediation was required, according to Sharon Anglim, communications director.

Alcoa adds filters

Alcoa also tested the water at its elementary school, the Education Support Center, and the football stadium bathrooms and concession stands in June.

Of the 16 sources over the limit, Bell said, “We had everything from just barely over 20 ppb, to 468 ppb in an old bathroom underneath the auditorium,” which the district took out of service.

After the district added water filters and retested the sources, which the director said were seldom-used sinks, only three still had lead levels above the limit, all at Alcoa Middle School.

“We are changing faucets, running some new water line, and hope to have them retested next week,” Bell wrote.

Blount still testing

In samples also taken in June, BCS found:

• 228 ppb at a sink in the Middlesettlements Elementary School kitchen,

• 42.3 ppb at a food preparation sink in the Fairview Elementary kitchen, and

• 41 ppb at a water fountain in an office at Lanier Elementary School that had been a classroom until a few years ago.

The Middlesettlements and Lanier sources permanently were removed from service, and the district planned to take corrective action at Fairview.

Blount County’s first tests also included Montvale Elementary and the William Blount High School Ninth Grade Academy, and Logan said all other sources were below 15 ppb.

In addition to those five schools, Blount County has eight others built before 1998, plus its Central Office. That includes Friendsville, Porter, Rockford and Walland elementary schools; Eagleton Middle School; Heritage and William Blount High Schools; and the Samuel Everett School of Innovation.

The district announced in January that it would test all BCS buildings, regardless of when they were built, “out of an abundance of caution for students and staff.”

Logan said the testing is scheduled to be completed this fiscal year, which ends June 30, 2020.

The new Tennessee law requires that when the lead level exceeds 20 ppb the schools must immediately remove the drinking water source from service until the level is lowered below the limit.

The schools also must notify government agencies at the state and local level within 24 hours, and students’ parents and guardians within five business days of the test result.

The Environmental Protection Agency and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say, “there is no known safe level of lead in a child’s blood. Lead is harmful to health, especially for children.”

Yet lead can be found not only in older water pipes but also paint in homes before 1978, some toys and jewelry, even imported candies and home remedies.

The Tennessee Department of Health warns that about one in 11 children ages 1-5 may have harmful levels of lead in their blood. That can lead to learning, behavior and hearing problems.

Since the mid-1970s, the lead levels in children’s blood has declined dramatically through measures such as taking lead out of gasoline, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Water in homes — particularly older homes — may have lead from pipes, fixtures and solder, but lead also could be in water service lines leading to the property.

The new state law requires that the school water tests be done on samples from the first 250 milliliters that have been sitting in plumbing overnight.

Amy Beth earned her degree from West Virginia. She joined The Daily Times in 2016 on the education beat covering Alcoa, Maryville and Blount County school systems.

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