Emails obtained by NBC 7 under the California Public Records Act show that the San Diego Unified School District (SDUSD) knew seven weeks ago that water at a local elementary school had high levels of contaminants in it.
Documents show a consulting firm the district hired to test the water at the Emerson-Bandini campus found contamination and provided those results to San Diego Unified in February. The district did not provide those lab reports to NBC 7, but rather the documents were obtained on March 29 through a records request of emails NBC 7 made to the City of San Diego.
NBC 7 filed records request on Feb. 28 with every water agency in the county for communications between water providers and school districts regarding water quality tests at schools, and any action taken as a result of those tests. So far, these documents are the first to show communications between area school districts and public utilities about any water contamination discovered.
Now, emails obtained by NBC 7 show the school district was informed of lab results on Feb. 9 and again on Feb. 21 that the water at the school in Southcrest was contaminated with various chemicals.
The lab results show unsafe levels of vinyl chloride, and various other chemicals. Toxic levels of lead have also been discovered in the water there.
Correspondence in an email dated Feb. 21 says there were “reports of blue tinge to water” at the school and that a school nurse “reports that several charter students experienced nausea and vomiting following consumption of water.”
The emails show the lab told the district the results were consistent with what was making students and staff sick with nausea after drinking the water, and recommended the district test other schools on the same water distribution line.
On Wednesday, a SDUSD spokeswoman said “we are at the mercy of the city” to explain why results had not yet been provided to the public and NBC 7.
On March 2, nearly a month after the first lab results were obtained by the district showing contaminated water, NBC 7 visited Emerson-Bandini Elementary School on Newton Avenue. That day, kids were drinking from the water fountain and school staff told NBC 7 bottled water was not being provided to students because, “nothing was wrong with the water there.”
That same day, a SDUSD spokeswoman told NBC 7 that preliminary results of lab tests showed corrective action may need to be taken because bacteria was discovered in the water. That statement said the district received word of a possible odor in the water so they sent samples out for analysis and started providing bottled water.
Now, public records show the actual lab results from the samples had already been received by the district nearly a full month prior.
NBC 7 reached out to the school district Thursday morning regarding the information found in the emails. A spokeswoman said the school district began providing bottled water to Emerson-Bandini Elementary School on Jan. 26.
“The report you speak on was done after that as part of the investigation into what might be the issue there. It’s like your water heater breaking at home – first you mitigate the immediate problem (cut off drinking from the fountains and provide bottled water), and then you start looking into what the source of the problem was (the investigations that followed and that the report refers to),” the spokeswoman explained via email.
She said the nurse’s observation referred to in the emails came after the water issues at the school had been reported, and after the bottled water had been distributed on campus. The testing was not done because children were getting sick; it was done before that, the spokeswoman said.
Meanwhile, SDUSD plans to begin testing all schools for lead as of April 4. Results will be posted online.