San Diego

San Diego Unified School District Begins to Test School Water for Lead

The second largest school district in the state of California will be testing its schools for lead in drinking water offered to students and staff

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. 

Five water samples were taken from Horton Elementary School on Guymon Street in the morning, hours before staff or students arrived to campus.

Samples were collected from water in the cafeteria, food prep areas and also drinking fountains.

It's one of the first schools within the district to be tested for lead and other contaminates.

The water at all schools within the district, including charter schools located on SDUSD property, will be tested for lead by the end of the traditional school year in June.

President of the San Diego Unified School Board Richard Barrera said the testing can only happen when the water is in regular use, when the schools are in session.

Samples will be collected Tuesday through Saturday since there are rules that water can't be sitting too long before testing, according to the district.

All schools in district and those on district property - approximately 200 will be tested.

“We need to test now so we can identify what the problems are so we can get in there and fix the problems,” Barrera said.

The potential for lead contamination in the water supply is greater in buildings built before 1986. There are 447 schools across San Diego County built before 1986. See our map of schools where the risk is greater here.

NBC 7 has been covering the concerns regarding drinking water at area schools since lab results revealed high levels of lead, copper and bacteria in the drinking water at La Mirada Elementary School in San Ysidro.

Barrera explained that the state had planned to test all schools between now and 2019 but that the district asked for the process to be accelerated after lead was found in a water sample from Emerson-Bandini Elementary School.

Emails obtained by NBC 7 under the California Public Records Act show that SDUSD learned seven weeks ago that water at one of its elementary schools contained high levels of contaminants.

The district hired a consulting firm to test the water at  Emerson-Bandini Elementary School in Southcrest. Documents show the firm found contamination and provided those results to SDUSD in February.

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.

Barrera said the district will be transparent regarding test results and will publish them online here.

One parent told NBC 7 the City of San Diego should just replace the plumbing in the schools.

“I think they should just take apart all the pipes, clean everything out,” said Jorge Manzo. “You don’t want your kid to get sick from all this.”

Barrera suggested parents get informed about what's happening in the district.

"Parents should be paying attention right now. Our entire community should be paying attention," Barrera said.

According to the district, the testing will take place in a geographic pattern.

"Five schools will be tested daily, beginning in the southeast corner of the district where some of the oldest district schools are located. City staff will proceed north and west until all testing is complete," according to Isabella McNeil, San Diego Unified School District spokesperson.

Learn more about the testing on the district's web page here.

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