By Philip Haldiman, Independent Newsmedia
The Peoria Unified School District is participating in a free proactive lead screening for more than 30 of its schools.
District spokeswoman Erin Dunsey said the screenings will take place over spring break, March 20-24.
The results should be available about three weeks after the screenings.
“In addition to wanting to be good stewards, we thought it would be helpful to voluntarily participate in the free screening process,” she said. “Those who do not participate in the voluntary process could be subject to mandatory testing within a few years at a potential cost to the district. Therefore, we are being proactive.”
Trevor Baggiore, director of the water quality division in the Department of Environmental Quality, said the purpose of the school drinking water screening program is to identify whether school drinking water contains lead levels of concern for children’s health, so that school districts can take appropriate actions to address any identified concerns.
He said the Arizona public school drinking water lead screening project was not started because of any indication of a potential problem, but to proactively detect lead in water in schools so that schools are aware of potential problems and can take action to address these problems.
The screenings are focused on at-risk zip codes for childhood lead poisoning, facilities used by children ages 5 and younger and school buildings built before 1987, which is when more protective construction standards for plumbing and fixtures went into effect.
The program will also include some newer school buildings to verify the standards continue to be protective and not impacting drinking water.
Mr. Baggiore said ADEQ’s metric for this project is by building because some schools have one building and others have several. Less than 2.5 percent of screened buildings in this program have had elevated levels of lead.
He said school drinking water may become contaminated as water moves through a school’s plumbing system where lead from materials and fixtures, such as water fountains, faucets and water heaters, may leach into the water. The risk of lead leaching increases with intermittent water use and when water lines are not flushed, for example, when schools are closed for extended periods of time, like summer and spring breaks, he said.
ADEQ provides toolkits to participating schools that include sample instructions, collection containers and prepaid shipping boxes to mail the samples to contracted laboratories for testing. Samples at schools may be taken from any sink known to be or visibly used for consumption, including drinking fountains, cafeteria and kitchen sinks, nurse’s/health office sinks, as well as home economics room sinks.