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Alachua County Schools And GRU Still Developing Water Testing Protocol For Lead Contamination

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Earlier this year, a report suggested Florida public schools and day cares could have high levels of lead in their drinking water, and most school districts currently lack comprehensive testing protocols for lead.

Alachua County Public Schools is one of those districts, and while the county is working with Gainesville Regional Utilities to develop a system of testing, a start date has not yet been announced.

WUFT News reported on the advocacy group, Environment America’s, report in March after national concern over the alarmingly high levels of lead found in the drinking water of places like Flint, Michigan.

At the time,  school district spokeswoman Jackie Johnson said there was no requirement to test for lead in the school’s water, but the school board was working with GRU to develop a plan.

“Since then we have been doing some preliminary work – surveying our buildings, surveying all our chillers, water fountains,” Johnson said. “That’s the stuff that has to be done when you’re developing a plan.”

GRU Water Specialist Tony Cunningham said the utility already regularly tests its water systems.

“We’ve been sampling for lead, meeting all the requirements for that for the past 25 years,” he said. “The concern with lead is internal plumbing in a building or a home.”

GRU is developing a protocol through which water samples would be obtained from various schools of the 29 in the district and would then be sent to a certified lead lab for testing.

A trial run of testing has already been completed at Meadowbrook Elementary, the district’s newest school. Some of the results were considered false positives, according to the district. As a result, the district plans to reassess its protocols.

Most Florida schools do not test for lead in water, but when testing is performed, it is not mandatory for Florida schools to test beyond the Environmental Protection Agency’s minimum regulations. The EPA’s drinking water standard for lead is 15 parts per billion.

The American Academy of Pediatrics emphasizes there is not a safe level for exposure to lead. The academy estimates there are 24 million children across the country who are in danger of being exposed to low levels of lead.

Some Alachua County teachers, like Keely Bird, a special education teacher, are concerned about the delay in testing. Bird is willing to buy water testing kits online to jump start testing in her own classroom.

“When I tell my students all the time that it’s safe, I’d like to believe that it is,” Bird said.

The School Board and GRU hope to roll out the testing system sometime after summer.

About Daniela Hurtado

Daniela is a reporter for WUFT News and can be contacted by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news@wuft.org.

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