Since the Flint, Mich. water crisis and recent lead problems in Sebring, the potential of lead poisoning from old buildings and water systems is national news.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says no level of lead is safe. The metal is particularly dangerous for young children and can result in lower IQs, behavioral problems, weight loss, fatigue, abdominal pain and vomiting.
State and federal laws require routine testing of public water systems. Those public systems are required to report their results to the state, and if they detect certain levels of lead, to alert the public.
But schools generally fall outside those requirements — meaning lead contamination of tap water is likely to go undetected for tens of thousands of schoolchildren.
A recent story involves Portland, Ore., where elevated lead levels have been found in the school drinking water. In that school district, 51 schools had at least one drinking fountain since 2009 dispensing water with lead levels above the federal government's "action level" of 15 parts per billion. At one such fixture, test results collected by the district showed lead at 130 parts per billion.
It’s no secret that some of the schools in this area are old.
Norwalk’s Main Street and League Elementary schools and Monroeville High School were built long before 1986, when most buildings were still using lead pipes and fittings. However, these schools haven’t seen any trouble from old pipe fixtures, according to officials.
“I don’t have a concern,” director of Support Services Dustin Brown said.
The lines at League Street School are galvanized, and the service pipes are threaded. Although the joints could have some soldering lead, it’s not likely to affect the water supply. The solder is just in one place, right at the sinks, and would need to corrode somehow before it could potentially affect the water.
The school district hasn’t done any recent upgrades on plumbing, but it reportedly hasn’t been an issue.
Norwalk’s Water Department assures city residents they have nothing to worry about either.
The department published its annual quality report last week — releasing data on chemicals and contaminants present in the drinking water. Results were good. The city’s water supply exceeded expectations on everything from lead levels to bacteria content.
Water plant chief operator Rick Schaffer wrote the 2015 report, which included information on where Norwalk sourced its water from and what to do to reduce the effects of lead pipes.
“We’ve met every standard and that’s the goal,” said Schaffer, who added that the city was in compliance with the standards for 2016 as well.
“We’re happy with how things are going at the water treatment plant.”
During 2015, the department ran about 75 different tests on thousands of samples to ensure water quality. They tested for everything from lead to chemicals and bacteria. They did this all while processing an average of 1.73 million gallons of water a day.
The department found 4 lead particles per billion in 2013, well below the 15ppb limit. Norwalk also buys water from Northern Ohio Rural Water each year. Tests on drinking water from NORW showed less than 3ppb.
Although the test results are in the green, there are still some lead service lines in Norwalk. While those lines might not be replaced any time soon, there are precautions residents can take for their own health.
The EPA recommends “flushing” pipes by running the cold water for 5 to 30 seconds if the faucet has not been used for six hours or more. They also warn against using hot water for cooking or drinking, as it tends to contain more lead. Cold water is the way to go. Likewise, boiling water will do nothing to remove lead.
People living in newer homes have little to worry about. Lead pipes are typically found in homes built before 1986.
EDITOR’S NOTE: The Oregonian (Portland, Ore.) staff (TNS) contributed to this story.