San Diego County

Students May Have Drunk Chloroform, Chlorine at Hope Elementary: Carlsbad District

The school's drinking water may have been contaminated with copper, chlorine, chloroform and other chemicals used to kill bacteria after the reclaimed water and drinking water lines were accidentally cross-connected

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The Carlsbad Unified School District hosted another meeting Monday night to discuss water contamination that went unnoticed at Hope Elementary School for months despite student complaints.

Earlier this month, the district confirmed drinking water and reclaimed water lines were cross-connected, possibly during a construction project over summer break. Monday's town hall gave parents insight into the district's investigation so far, and detailed some startling facts about what’s in reclaimed water.

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First on the list is unsafe levels of copper, said Assistant Superintendent Eric Dil citing results from water plant testing. It's a byproduct of chlorinated water four times the acceptable level in drinking water.

Readings from the plant also indicated students may have also been taking in nearly 10 times the acceptable level of chloroform, Dil said.

"I can look up chemicals. I can Google everything, but I need for you to tell us what is going to happen 10 years down the line," a parent told school leaders.

Copper, chlorine, chloroform and other chemicals found in reclaimed water are used to kill bacteria in sewage. Hope Elementary uses the treated wastewater to irrigate its landscape.

Students reported discoloration, odor and complained about taste on several instances since the start of the school year, according to District Assistant Superintendent Eric Dill. The district confirmed the contamination in early March, then took a weekend to fix the connection and flush the pipes.

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"It’s our children and our teachers, so I just want to make sure they are safe. It shouldn’t be a question. They should take care of it and everybody should be tested," one parent said.

A pediatric consultant for Carlsbad Unified said the hazardous chemicals present while the water was contaminated would no longer show up in tests of the students.

"It doesn’t look like it's something the body would not have expelled," Dr. Howard Taras told parents. But that did little to ease parents' frustrations.

"If you were in this situation you’d feel the same way," another parent said. "You’d have that empathy. Our kids were poisoned, there is no rationale."

The district said the drinking water has been safe since it fixed the pipes, but many wonder if the same thing could ever happen again.

"I didn’t get a straight answer," parent Kim McConnell said. "I think there are a lot of questions still hanging out there."

Parent Chris Davidson agreed.

"Nothing about that meeting was satisfactory," he said.

Because there are no more existing samples of the contaminated water that was flowing through Hope Elementary's drinking water, the district may never know exactly what students and staff drank.

That's unsettling to parents at the town hall who say they have lost their confidence in the school’s leadership.

Some of that contaminated drinking water at Hope Elementary was filtered through the school's system before kids drank it, according to district representatives, but water used in the kitchen and for some special events was not.

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