The San Diego Unified School District is planning to flush pipes with water at schools prior to the City of San Diego administering tests for lead.
District officials say the practice will protect students, while water quality experts warn it could hide dangerous levels of the metal.
The San Diego Unified School District began testing its schools' water Tuesday after lab reports confirmed "higher than allowable" lead levels were found at one campus. Samples will be gathered at five campuses a day, Tuesday through Saturday, now through mid-June.
Chief Operations Officer Drew Rowlands said the district is considering a practice called “flushing,” which involves letting water run at faucets and drinking fountains for about a minute before kids drink from it in the morning.
Rowlands said the city and the district considered, but decided against a different practice called “pre-stagnation flushing,” which has been shown to dramatically throw off test results in New York city schools.
Water experts say “pre-stagnation flushing” is different from the daily flushing routine the district is trying for students, but both methods could impact test results. Pre-stagnation flushing involves running the water at faucets and water fountains for about two hours the night before the fountain is tested.
Rowlands said the district ultimately decided not to do that.
The daily flushing protocol is aimed at protecting kids from getting higher than allowable amounts of lead in their water when they first drink from water fountains in the morning, Rowlands said.
“That’s what we’re contemplating and we think that’s a good next step for us, realizing that all the testing is ongoing and all the interest in what’s happened has elevated,” Rowlands said. “We’re trying to be proactive and believe flushing is a good response as we work through the testing.”
Water quality experts, Marc Edwards, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Virginia Tech who helped uncover dangerous lead levels in the water in Flint, Michigan, and Bob Bowcock, an engineer who has been in the water treatment and testing business for more than 30 years, both said San Diego Unified’s plan to implement a daily flushing routine is fine but should only be implemented after the district tests water for lead and obtains the results.
“You need the results so you can see how bad it could be before you flush… or to prove flushing is the right thing to do,” Bowcock said via an email to NBC 7.
Edwards said the daily flushing could help the water quality but it must be maintained on a consistent basis, and agreed that the practice should not be implemented until after tests are complete.
“It would be best to not do it while sampling,” Edwards said. “The intent is to detect problems.”
District officials said the daily flushing protocol will likely be implemented this week before many schools are tested.
Rowlands said the purpose is to protect kids as the district progresses through the lead water testing program.
“Again, everyone’s a little more concerned. So, this is just one more step that we can do to make sure that if there is an issue, it is being addressed in the interim and once we see the test results, we’re going to take action,” Rowlands said.
“If it exceeds the limit, we’re going to secure the drinking fountain and in all likelihood that school will go on bottled water until we resolve the source of the lead and until we make sure once again everyone is comfortable with the quality of the water.”