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San Diego Unified School District to Test Schools’ Water for Lead

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The state’s second largest school district will conduct testing on its drinking water after another local district uncovered high levels of lead, copper and bacteria in water from school fountains.

San Diego Unified School District joins Cajon Valley, Chula Vista Elementary, National Elementary and Sweetwater Union school districts in taking part in a free program to conduct lead testing on school drinking water.

High levels of lead were found in drinking fountains at La Mirada Elementary in the San Ysidro School District. District officials shut off water to three schools after tests at one school revealed elevated levels of lead, copper and bacteria in drinking water.

“We will be requesting sampling for our schools and will be meeting with the city to plan and coordinate the effort,” SDUSD Communications Director Shari Winet told NBC 7.

Sweetwater Union High School District tested two schools last year and found they do not have high levels of lead in the drinking fountains on those school campuses, an official told NBC 7.

San Marcos Unified School District has already completed the testing with officials in the Vallecitos Water District. The water district's spokesperson Chris Robbins said the testing was easy to schedule and coordinate with the district.

Because the Chula Vista Elementary School District has 45 schools served by four different water agencies, a spokesman said the testing will require a lot of coordination.

Since NBC 7 has begun reporting on the test results, we've surveyed several large school districts across the county and found no other school districts have conducted the free testing.

On January 26, San Ysidro Superintendent Julio Fonseca, Ed.D. sent a letter to parents of students at La Mirada Elementary informing them that a recent sampling showed “slightly elevated levels of lead at eight more fountains within the school and the presence of bacteria at two sinks and a fountain.”

Water service was turned off and bottled water was brought in at La Mirada and two other campuses as a precaution - Smythe Elementary School and San Ysidro Middle School.

The district told parents it planned to replace the affected fountains at La Mirada by mid-February with a replacement of faucets and fountains at Smythe and San Ysidro by summer 2017.

NBC 7 has requested results of water quality testing near the schools conducted by the City of San Diego, which provides the water to the San Ysidro School District.

Last year, the State Water Resources Control Board initiated a program that requires water districts to provide free testing to school districts upon request.

This week, Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher, D-San Diego, whose district includes San Ysidro, introduced a bill that would mandate the testing  for contaminants annually. Schools with unsafe levels of lead (more than 15 parts per billion) would have to shut off the water and notify parents, if the bill is approved.

A San Diego Union-Tribune published Friday urged schools to conduct the testing voluntarily.

"There’s no reason not to test, especially in districts with schools built before 1986 when an amendment to the Safe Drinking Water Act banned lead plumbing — and especially since the state of California offers free lead testing," the editorial stated.

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