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Health, Science & Environment

Utah Schools Expand Testing For Lead In Drinking Water

Testing for lead in drinking water is expanding to schools throughout Utah. State environmental regulators want to make sure students are not at risk from high lead levels in old pipes or fixtures.

Utah drinking water officials are asking schools around the state to test for lead after spot checks turned up elevated levels in a few schools.

Testing isn’t something the nation’s schools are required to do. But, in January, the Obama administration urged districts to check anyhow, and that prompted the Utah Division of Drinking Water to sample water in around 190 schools.

Samples in ten schools revealed toxic lead above EPA safety levels, which are 15 micrograms per liter of water -- below the steady levels that caused a crisis in Flint, Michigan.  

“We’re not looking at a system-wide failure like they’ve had out in Flint,” says Marie Owens, director of the Utah Division of Drinking Water. She says Utah’s few high results aren’t cause for alarm, because schoolchildren are not be ingesting enough water to be dangerous. But she also wants a deeper look.

“The at-risk population for lead are children,” she says. “So, we need to just look at what’s going on in the schools so that we know.”

Many of Utah’s elevated readings so far came from the Granite School District in the Salt Lake Valley. Ben Horsley, Granite’s spokesman, says many of the district’s 92 school buildings are old and have lead pipes. He says flushing them often solves the problem.

“That actually has been completed at this point in time, and school does start next Monday,” he says. “So, we feel confident that we’ve addressed the testing and the issues that have been brought forward with this testing.”

Drinking water officials say assessing samples from 900 school buildings statewide will continue into fall.

KUER’s web site has a link for checking lead tests for individual schools.

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