San Diego

Arsenic Levels Double Safe Limit in Warner Springs School Water

Water has been shut off and kids are being provided bottled water

Recent county water test results show arsenic levels more than double the amount the Environmental Protection Agency says is safe for drinking water at the Warner Springs School District.

Water has been shut off and kids are being provided bottled water.

The small school district serves students in pre-school through high school in the far East County.

NBC 7 requested water quality tests throughout the county under the California Public Records Act after educators at San Ysidro School District found unsafe levels of lead coming from a drinking fountain at an elementary school in the South Bay.

"I didn't understand it. I still don't," said Warner Springs parent Kelly Little. "It is scary."

Little is new to Warner Springs, but found out quickly that the water is not safe to drink.

Educators and students here have been dealing with the issue for years, since 2013.

"We went above the maximum contaminant level and then below and then above and then just recently when we consistently started being above, we brought in bottled water for the kids and all the staff," said Warner Unified Chief Business Official Andrea Sissons. "We shut down all of our fountains, so there's no access to drinking water."

Long-term exposure to arsenic is linked to increased risk of kidney, bladder and lung cancer.

Sissons said as soon as officials discovered the issue, they shut faucets off; started quarterly testing and informed parents.

For years, they’ve been working to access state funding to pay for a kitchen sink filter, emergency water reimbursement and a long-term solution. Sissons said she thinks they are in the home stretch of accessing state funding for an engineer to build a long-term solution.

As a small water system with a well, the water district is required to test their water annually, unlike most water districts across the state. Once they discovered the arsenic, they began testing the water quarterly, she said.

Sissons says the water problem has really impacted the school beyond just worrying parents. Once a school with a large agricultural program, complete with vineyards that have now dried up because of the lack of water, Warner Unified has had to move some of its programs off-campus.

“We are a big agricultural school,” Sissons said. “We have a really healthy Future Farmers of America program. But, the last couple years, since we have no water, the kids have had to take the animals home with them, if they have a place at home to keep an animal.”

San Ysidro district officials shut off drinking water at La Mirada Elementary School following high lead results of tests in October. The drinking water was shut off as a precaution at Smythe Elementary and San Ysidro Middle School, officials said.

NBC 7 obtained one test result that revealed levels of lead in the drinking water at La Mirada that were nearly 18 times higher than the regulatory limit. Also, a dangerous bacteria was discovered coming from taps in several areas of the school.

In October, San Ysidro school officials ordered water quality tests after a substance described as blue and murkey was noticed coming out of the faucets during a pressure test.

In California, there are no requirements that schools test water quality. A trio of bills introduced this legislative session aims to change that. A bill by local Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez-Fletcher would require schools test for lead and report results to parents.

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