Water testing shows lead in 12 fixtures at Steamboat schools, day care | SteamboatToday.com

Water testing shows lead in 12 fixtures at Steamboat schools, day care

During water testing conducted at multiple schools and child care centers from late December 2022 to early February across Routt County, exceedances in lead action levels were found at 12 drinking water locations, including five at Steamboat Springs Middle School, with one of those middle school drinking fountains shown here.
Steamboat Springs School District/Courtesy photo

During recent water testing at multiple schools and child care centers across Routt County, exceedances in lead action levels were found at 12 locations.

As part of Colorado’s Clean Water in Schools and Child Care Centers legislation, water from drinking fountains, kitchens and ice machines in the county were tested for lead from late December to early February.

The dozen exceedances in lead levels were found at five sites at Steamboat Springs Middle School, three at Strawberry Park Elementary, two at Steamboat Montessori School, one at Steamboat Springs High School and one in an outdoor spigot at an in-home daycare in Steamboat Springs.

Steamboat Springs School District Director of Communications Laura Milius said on Wednesday, March 15, that “all sources of concern have been shut off,” and information letters were sent to parents on Tuesday, March 14.

“We are working closely with local and state health officials on the next best steps in terms of retesting and the recommended approaches for mitigation,” Milius said.

The lead action level for drinking water in schools and child care facilities is five parts per billion. One drinking fountain near classroom 131 at the middle school tested at a high level of 51 ppb, or 10 times more than the level requiring action.

Colorado House Bill 22-1358 was signed into law in June, requiring each child care center, family child care home and school that serves any of grades preschool through fifth to test their drinking water through a state-certified lab by May 31 and remediate if necessary.

The Test and Fix Water for Kids program through the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment helps schools and child care programs meet the water safety requirements by providing free training, testing, remediation and technical assistance. Remediation examples include faucet replacement or installing filters.

How to reduce lead levels in water

The Colorado Department of Public Health & Environment recommends best practices to reduce lead levels in water if no filter or treatment device in present. A fact sheet on the topic is available online at CDPHE.colorado.gov/lead-in-drinking-water.

  • Let the water run before drinking. If the water has not been used for several hours, run the cold water tap until the temperature is noticeably colder to flush lead-containing water from the pipes.
  • Never cook or drink water from the hot water tap. Hot water can be more corrosive, and possibly lead from a home’s plumbing can get into the water.
  • Boiling water will not remove lead. Boiling results in evaporation of some water but leaves the lead behind.
  • Periodically remove and clean the faucet’s strainer/aerator. While the aerator is removed, run water to remove debris.
  • Use only sources intended for consumption, such as avoiding laboratory and bathroom sinks.

“While drinking water is just one potential source of lead exposure, it is essential to reduce the risk for children as much as possible,” according to the state health department. “Lead builds up in the body over time, and ongoing exposure, even at low levels, may eventually cause harmful effects such as lower IQs, hearing loss, shorter stature and damage to the nervous system.”

At the in-home day care in Steamboat, the lead exceedance was recorded at an outdoor spigot, which was “removed from consumption” in late January, according to the state’s lead test results that are posted online.

The lead exceedances at Steamboat Montessori School were identified from two faucets in the art room that are not used for student drinking, said Emily Barnhart, head of school. The faucets are now specifically labeled not for drinking, and water from the sink has been retested with results forthcoming, Barnhart said.

At the high school, the exceedance was in a kitchen faucet. At the middle school, where the main building was constructed in 1981, the exceedance levels were found at a faucet at a kitchen prep sink and at drinking fountains in the cafeteria and near the eighth grade science room. The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment prioritizes testing in buildings older than 1986.

At Strawberry Park Elementary, the three exceedances were in drinking fountains including in the gym, outside of bathrooms near workroom 123 and in breakout room 149A.

Other facilities tested that did not have lead exceedances in drinking water include Sleeping Giant School, the new school complex in Hayden, Heritage Park Preschool, Soda Creek Elementary, Yampa Valley High School, Young Tracks Preschool and Child Care Center in Steamboat, and the child care center at 227 Dodge Ave. in Oak Creek.

According to the Colorado health department, currently 6.5% of the total samples collected in schools and child care centers in Colorado showed at or above the remediation goal of 5 parts per billion.

“No level of lead is considered safe in drinking water,” according to the CDPHE. “If lead is detected in concentrations less than or equal to 5 ppb, we recommend periodic flushing after long periods of low or no usage (weekends and breaks).”

The Routt County Public Health Department is participating in a federal Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation lead testing program, so all schools including middle and high schools are eligible for help with lead testing. 

“Typically, most exceedances are associated with older fixtures that need to be replaced or fixtures that have not been used frequently,” according to the Colorado Department of Public Health.

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