Kay Rottell

Kay Rottell

Sequim schools to replace Greywolf’s water fixtures after lead study; tests on other buildings planned

SEQUIM — The Sequim School District plans to replace every sink fixture in Greywolf Elementary School and two at Helen Haller Elementary School after tests for lead in water found high levels in some fixtures.

School officials made the announcement at a public forum Thursday night at Sequim Middle School.

A dozen parents and residents heard from Sequim school and city officials as well as from the Clallam County Department of Health, state Department of Health and Clallam County Public Utility District.

Water from eight sinks at Greywolf Elementary and two at Helen Haller Elementary had been found to contain lead in levels above the state-recommended threshold.

Brian Lewis, director of business operations for Sequim schools, said Thursday the estimate for replacing Greywolf’s 51 fixtures and Helen Haller’s two fixtures will cost about $8,000, including equipment and labor.

Lewis said replacing the schools’ fixtures is an unplanned cost, but if there’s a “health and safety issue, we’re going to respond to it.”

So far, water testing has cost about $600 at the two schools, he said.

Parents of students at the two elementary schools were informed of the results of tests in an email issued May 26.

Staff disabled the sinks, school officials said, adding that no drinking fountains were found to have water lead levels above the safety threshold.

State threshold

The threshold for exceeding allowable lead levels by the state is 0.02 or 20 parts per billion, school district officials said.

Lead in the water from the affected fixtures ranged from 0.023 to 0.048, or from 23 parts per billion to 48 parts per billion, they added.

Dr. Christopher Frank, Clallam County health officer, said the threshold is conservative. He added that there is no mathematical formula for how much lead in water is going to affect individual people.

“It still has a lot of variables,” Frank said.

Those variables, he said, range from how much water students drink from an affected fixture to how long the water sits in the pipes to the size of the child to what they eat to where they live.

“It’s a question that’s going to come up over and over again,” he said.

After reports of high levels of lead in Flint, Mich., and Tacoma schools, Sequim Superintendent Gary Neal on May 4 directed school staff to begin testing. The district began voluntary testing May 13.

Tests for lead in water are not required for schools that receive water from an outside source, such as the PUD.

Schools with their own source of water — such as Brinnon and Quilcene, which use well water — must test every three years.

Lewis said the district plans to replace fixtures of the same type and age as those that tested high, even if they showed no indication of contamination. Greywolf’s fixtures were installed in 1992.

School officials are awaiting a second set of sample results from the affected 10 fixtures within the next two weeks.

Kay Rottell, engineer for the state’s southwest region drinking water regional operations, said the first test sampled water sitting in the fixture.

Before the second sample, water was allowed to run for about 30 seconds so the water tested was from the pipes.

“The remedial action is replacing the fixture because that’s what you target through sampling,” Rottell said.

Beth Schwartz, a Multipure Drinking Water System distributor, asked why the district wouldn’t install filters to keep out lead and other contaminants.

Rottell said doing that comes with many more requirements.

“If schools begin treating, then the schools themselves become public water suppliers, so they become a public water system,” she said.

Next steps

The school district’s plan is to next test fixtures at the base kitchen and Olympic Peninsula Academy inside Sequim Community School.

“It’s a building of multiple eras,” Lewis said. “We hope it’s not going to cost as much for corrective actions.”

After that, the district will test Sequim Middle School and Sequim High School.

“If fixtures test above threshold, they’ll be shut down and eventually replaced,” Lewis said.

Sequim school staff will order replacement faucets when results from the second set of water samples is received tentatively by mid-June, Lewis said.

People who want to minimize lead exposure, Frank said, should be careful around lead-based paints and dust.

“Those are the main reasons for exposure now,” he said. “There is a lot of lead out in the environment, but water is one of the sources we worry about the least.”

Houses built before 1978 are likely to contain lead-based paint, according to the state Department of Health.

Clallam County hasn’t reported significant lead levels in children, Frank said.

“That being said, we do know there is lead out there; we just haven’t seen it be a problem in our county . . . our goal is to minimize the level of exposure across the board,” he said.

“There’s probably never going to be a time when lead exposure is zero.”

Frank and Sequim schools nurse Sonja Bittner recommend that parents concerned about possible exposure of their children consult a physician.

“So far, I’m happy with how they handled it,” said parent Josh Riley.

“I look forward to seeing the results.”

Other public schools

Other public schools on the North Olympic Peninsula are testing their water.

The Crescent School District in Joyce had samples taken May 27 for lead testing.

At the end of last month, the Cape Flattery School District was preparing to test and Chimacum School District officials were expected to develop a lead sampling plan during June.

The Port Townsend district last tested four years ago. Port Angeles’ most recent tests were seven years ago.

The Quillayute Valley School District does not have a policy for lead testing but was considering developing one.

Brinnon and Quilcene districts will test again in 2018.

For more information on Sequim’s lead studies, visit www.sequim.k12.wa.us or contact district spokeswoman Patsene Dashiell at 360-582-3264 or [email protected]

________

Matthew Nash is a reporter with the Olympic Peninsula News Group, which is composed of Sound Publishing newspapers Peninsula Daily News, Sequim Gazette and Forks Forum. Reach him at [email protected]

Peninsula Daily News Reporter Chris McDaniel contributed to this report.

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