During a second round of extensive water testing at Northwest Elementary School conducted by the City of Howell and Howell Public Schools that included 30 samples from 23 sites within the school, the majority of the results found either no detection of lead or amounts that were below the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) action level. The EPA’s action level is 15 parts per billion (ppb).
At Northwest Elementary 16 samples found no detection of lead and 14 samples found lead. Of the 14 samples, 11 samples were below the EPA’s action level and tested between 1 ppb and 12 ppb. Three samples did come back above EPA action level at 19 ppb, 24 ppb and 130 ppb. These samples were from seldom used fixtures. The result that returned at 19 ppb was from a drinking fountain, the result that returned at 24 ppb was from a nonpublic consumption point and the result that returned at 130 ppb was from a sink. In the case of the latter, a sample from the drinking fountain connected to the same fixture returned at 3.1 ppb. Samples were tested by two independent state certified laboratories.
Because only some samples returned positive for lead, it is believed that the fixtures in those locations are the cause of the positive test results. As a precaution, any fixture where a water sample returned positive for lead, even those that were below the EPA action level, will be replaced. These fixtures will remain out of service until replacement occurs. Replacement of the fixtures will take place after school hours as to not interrupt instructional time.
Howell Public Schools will maintain water coolers and portable water at Northwest Elementary until all of the identified fixtures have been replaced. According to the EPA, a common cause for a positive lead water test is older plumbing fixtures such as brass or chrome-plated brass faucets and fixtures with lead solder, from which lead can enter into the water, especially hot water.
“Following initial tests that came back positive for lead, we began extensive water testing at Northwest Elementary. The majority of results from the second round of tests showed no detection of lead or were below the EPA’s action level. Two samples did show levels above the EPA’s action level” said Erin MacGregor, Howell Public Schools superintendent. “While the majority of tests that came back positive for lead were below the EPA’s action level, they are unacceptable to us. We will immediately begin replacing any fixture that tested positive for lead, even those that were below the EPA’s action level. Until each of these fixtures has been replaced, we will continue to maintain water coolers and bottled water at the school to ensure that our students and staff have access to safe drinking water.”
In 2012, the City of Howell replaced the water main feeding Northwest Elementary as part of its multi-year street program. The city was able to verify during the 2012 construction that the connection to Northwest Elementary meets current EPA and Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) standards.
The City of Howell has been in full compliance with Federal and State environmental lead requirements since their inception in 1986. The city’s proactive corrosion control program predated the city’s new water plant which began production in 1992. While this program prevents water from corroding metal pipes, it will not prevent lead components such as fixtures and lead solder from leaching lead into water that sits for long periods of time.
“I would like to thank the City of Howell and the Livingston County Health Department for their support during this process. Both organizations have been instrumental in providing assistance and guidance to our district as we work to ensure that all students have access to safe drinking water,” said MacGregor.
Water tests from Southeast, Southwest and Challenger elementary schools came back as “lead safe” with no detection of lead in the water. Howell Public Schools will continue to complete water testing at its buildings. As results are received, they will be shared with the community.