San Diego

School District Alerts Parents to Lead-Contaminated Water at Encanto Elementary

The results of recent testing at the school led the San Diego Unified School District to go back to approximately 40 schools with some levels of lead in their water

Further testing of contaminated drinking water in parts of Encanto Elementary's faucets led the San Diego Unified School District to shut off the contaminated water at the school. The district is now going back to approximately 40 schools that had some levels of lead in the water. 

In April, Encanto Elementary School, located on 65th Street, tested positive for small amounts of lead in the water. A sample taken from the upper level of Bldg 200 on April 4 measured 9.19 ug/L, one sample from an outside fountain in Bldg 400 measured 5.15 ug/L and another sample from the lower level of Bldg 200 measured 5.73 ug/L.

As schools test for lead in their drinking water, they are required by the state to fix problems if they discover lead in water at levels greater than 15 parts per billion (ppb).

The levels found at Encanto Elementary were not high enough to require officials to shut off the faucets. 

However, further testing of drinking water fountains at the school revealed higher levels of lead above the federal action limit. School officials discovered three lead-contaminated drinking water fountains at Encanto Elementary above state and federal limits this past week.

Educators secured the water fountains, preventing any kids from drinking from them. The school brought in bottled water for kids. 

The results led the San Diego Unified School District (SDUSD) to go back to approximately 40 schools with some levels of lead in their water. 

The school board directed facility managers to fix any drinking water source that contained any detectable level of lead above five parts per billion. That’s the lowest threshold of any school district in the state. Some tests cannot even detect lead in the water at less than five parts per billion.

"The comparison that we use is one part per billion is about the equivalent of one drop of water in an Olympic-size pool," said District Spokesman Samer Naji. "So, if you could imagine trying to find that one drop of water, is incredibly difficult. We now have the lowest action level of any school district in California."

About 19 percent of San Diego Unified schools showed some level of lead in the water.

Lead is a potent neurotoxin that can cause brain damage in children, and the effects are irreversible, according to pediatricians.

Last January, high levels of lead were discovered in the San Ysidro School District.

That prompted school district officials around the state to examine their own water.

As the second largest school district in the state, San Diego Unified is now at the forefront of developing standards for lead water testing.

District spokesman Samer Naji said San Diego Unified is conducting the most extensive testing in the state, possibly the nation, by aiming to test every single water fountain in the district during the next few years.

The board adopted a water remediation plan in July that includes testing every single tap and taking action if any detectable level of lead is discovered.

Parents at Encanto Elementary told NBC7 Wednesday they feel good about the way the district is handling the safety concern.

One parent told us she feels confident the district will appropriately handle any issues with the water.

Naji said the school district is also trying to pinpoint what might be causing the water to become contaminated with lead, but so far officials have not linked it to any one particular drinking fountain bubbler model.

"It's really hard to predict," Naji said. "Generally speaking, it's more likely you'll find it in an older building but in this new water remediation plan, we're prioritizing the schools where the city did find some lead first, so I would expect if we are going to find more issues it will be at these first few schools."

Encanto Elementary was open before July 1980, according to a state database of school construction with the CA Department of Education. 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.

School districts across the state are requesting water testing following NBC7 reporting. Some 488 schools in the county have been tested. About 10 of those schools have had lead in the water at levels above federal action limits of 15 parts per billion.

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.

San Diego Unified School District 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.

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

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