San Diego

Water Fountain at Birney Elementary School Has Levels of Lead Above State Guidelines

District officials are required by the state to fix problems if they discover lead in water at levels greater than 15 parts per billion (ppb).

What to Know

  • The second largest school district in the state is working with the City of San Diego to collect samples from 5 schools a day
  • The water at all schools, including charter schools on SDUSD property, will be tested by the end of the school year
  • Samples will be collected Tuesday through Saturday since there are rules that water can't be sitting too long before testing

Parents are being notified that a source of drinking water on the campus of a San Diego-area elementary school has tested positive for lead above the state guidelines.

The drinking fountain near the lunch area of Birney Elementary School was one of the sources sampled in the San Diego Unified School District's effort to test all schools for lead levels in drinking water. 

City of San Diego employees sampled water from the fountains on May 2 before students were on campus, as per district protocol.

According to the results posted on the district's website, the wall-mounted fountain was found to have a lead level measured at 19 parts per billion.

District officials are required by the state to fix problems if they discover lead in water at levels greater than 15 parts per billion (ppb).

Two other samples were found to be positive but below the level requiring action under state guidelines.

They include a fountain posted on the 200 Building (13.9 ppb) and a fountain on the 300 building (9.48 ppb).

A SDUSD spokesperson confirmed the positive results were received Tuesday afternoon. The school issued a voicemail message to parents on Tuesday evening.

The school is shutting down fountains at the school and is providing bottled water for drinking and cooking.

The principal said the school was being extremely cautious but that there was no need for parents to worry, she added that "this is no where near Flint, Michigan."

This is the first school to record levels of lead over 15 ppb since testing began April 4.

SDUSD is publishing test results for each school here.

NBC 7 is mapping the schools and the results. Parents can view how the testing is going and click on each location for updates and links to test results.

One elementary school in San Ysidro found lead in its water at more than 200 ppb and it replaced its pipes and faucets.

Approximately 17 schools throughout the county have found lead between 5 ppb and 15 ppb - levels at which they are not required to take action under state guidelines.


In 2009, California’s health department, OEHHA, set the public health goal for lead in drinking water at 0.2 parts per billion.

The California Public Interest Research Group (CALPIRG) and the American Academy of Pediatrics maintain there is no safe level of lead in drinking water provided to children.

Lead poisoning in children can cause symptoms ranging from headaches and hearing or speech problems to learning and behavioral problems or damage to the brain and nervous system.

The potential for lead contamination in the water supply is greater in buildings built before 1986, according to health, water and city experts.

There are 447 schools across San Diego County built before 1986.

See our map of schools where the risk is greater here.

NBC 7 is gathering our coverage of concerns regarding drinking water in our special section "Safe to Drink?' here.

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