Water used for drinking and preparing food at Pittsburgh Public Schools is now being tested for lead.
The Allegheny County Health Department will work with Pittsburgh Public Schools and local water authorities to pinpoint and shut-off dangerous outlets throughout the 70 district facilities. All testing will take place this summer.
Even though there is no federal or state law requiring drinking water to be tested for lead, Pittsburgh Public Schools Chief Operations Officer Ronald Joseph said district officials want to take a proactive approach.
“Engaging this was, of course, the events going around the country, particularly with Flint, Mich., and us knowing that there would be increased awareness of drinking water quality in our schools,” Joseph said.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency classifies any fixture with lead levels over 20 parts per billion to be elevated. According to the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority, which serves Pittsburgh Public Schools, their average lead levels were at 14.9 ppb in 2015.
Following testing, depending on the size of the facility and student body, between three and six water fountains will be installed in each school. Joseph said they are capable of filtering lead and other contaminants.
“They’re chilled water stations that are bi-level, and they have two outlets to them,” he said. “One resembles a normal water fountain, and then the other adjacent fixture resembles a bottle filling station.”
The public health crisis in Flint, Mich. has caused testing of water safety throughout the country. Recently, drinking water at Tanner Elementary in Chicago showed elevated lead levels after the city conducted a pilot testing program of 32 schools.
According to county health officials, preschoolers are at the greatest risk of getting lead in their bloodstream, which impairs brain development. Potential health effects for children exposed include behavior disorders, hearing problems and delayed puberty.