More extensive tests planned for water quality at Cincinnati Public Schools

Posted at 6:16 PM, Sep 06, 2016
and last updated 2016-09-07 07:49:29-04

CINCINNATI -- While initial screenings show trace amounts of lead in the water at some Cincinnati public schools, school officials plan an even more extensive review over the next nine months.

Cincinnati Public Schools employees collected samples in May and June, and Greater Cincinnati Water Works completed testing in August. The tests were free for the district, done as a precaution to make sure large problems aren't lurking in kids' drinking water.

At Hyde Park School, city records showed a possibility the service line from the street was made of lead. Cynthia Eghbalnia, who manages environmental health and safety for CPS, collected samples at the school and had a local firm test them.

"I wanted to make sure we had it sampled immediately," she said. "I had it sampled by a local firm. I took the samples myself. We had the data within 24 to 48 hours."

Testing is purely voluntary. Lead levels were below the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's limit of 20 parts per billion for schools.

"That means that they are still detectable leads, but they are still below the action level," Eghbalnia said.

Use the map below to find the lead levels in CPS schools. Each school submitted three samples. The U.S. EPA sets a limit of 20 ppb for lead levels in schools' water, and the map shows the highest level detected at each school:

Greater Cincinnati Water Works checked and confirmed the line at Hyde Park School was not lead. Eghbalnia worked with the agency to collect water samples from 54 other buildings in the district for testing.

Jeff Swertfeger, superintendent of water quality for Greater Cincinnati Water Works, said the utility has specialized machines to detect metals in the water.

"I'd urge people not to panic," Swertfeger said. "We're doing this testing. By far what we've seen, the results are very, very low."

He said the low lead levels are likely a result of most school buildings' young age: They've been renovated since 2000 as part of massive infrastructure overall in the district. No school has lead service lines.

Greater Cincinnati Water Works and CPS are keeping tabs on some spots; initial testings only sampled water from three locations at each school and did not include every faucet, drinking fountain or hose bib.

"The amount of lead in brass used for faucets and for fixtures has gone down over the years, but there's still a little lead inside of brass components," Swertfeger said.

A federal act that took effect in 2014 changed the definition of "lead-free" fixtures from a weighted lead content of 8 percent or less to a weighted average of less than or equal to 0.25 percent for surfaces in contact with potable water. It also means any materials used for installation or repair must be lead-free, including pipes, pipe fittings, plumbing fittings, and plumbing fixtures. The law didn't change the definition of "lead-free" for solder or flux, at 0.2 percent lead.

"We are in a position where we feel we have lead-free fixtures and are up to code," Eghbalnia said.

Still, every faucet, drinking fountain or any place where water flows through a line will be tested this school year.

"The best part of this is that Cincinnati Public was so proactive and coming out and taking care of everything," said Jason Wilcoxon, whose two children attend Hyde Park School.

Greater Cincinnati Water Works is encouraging other schools, organizations and even homeowners to get their water tested. Anyone with a Water Works account can request a free testing kit here.