State data shows more than 300 schools in San Diego County are testing their water for lead, following an NBC7 Investigates series on water quality in schools.
A state spokeswoman said more schools are testing in San Diego County, by far, than any other county in the state.
At least 17 of schools, across several school districts, have received lab results of lead in school water at levels greater than five parts per billion.
Some public health advocates argue results greater than five parts per billion are a concern for children, while state guidelines suggest only results at levels greater than 15 parts per billion require further attention.
In California, most schools have never been required to test their water for lead under the current federal Lead and Copper Rule.
New state guidelines require public water systems to test schools for free, if the school requests the optional tests.
Prior to NBC7 Investigates series “Safe to Drink,” very few schools had accessed the free program across the city and state.
As of March 29, the latest state data available, more than 300 schools in San Diego County had reached out to their water utility to set up the tests.
Water with levels of lead greater than 15 parts per billion, which is also the federal Environmental Protection Agency action limit, must be treated for contamination, according to regulations set by the State Water Resources Control Board.
The state regulations require the school district take action to fix problems when lead is discovered in water higher than the action limit.
At San Marcos Unified, two schools had lead in water at levels greater than that action limit of 15 parts per billion, according to the most recent data available.
Twin Oaks High School had two fixtures with lead coming from the drinking faucets at 15 parts per billion and 31 parts per billion.
San Marcos Unified confirmed to NBC7 last month that contaminated water was found coming from a gym drinking fountain at San Marcos Middle school.
A spokeswoman said the district then moved to have all schools tested for lead in the water.
“Because it is critical to San Marcos Unified to ensure that the water used by our students, staff, and community is safe, the district elected to have all of our school sites tested,” said Communications Coordinator Anna Lucia Roybal. “We recently received the results from this latest round of testing, and Twin Oaks High School was found to have two fixtures with lead levels at or above the acceptable limit.”
One drinking fountain located near the basketball courts, came back at the action limit of 15 parts per billion, Roybal said. Another drinking fountain near a wood shop class had lead levels at 31 parts per billion.
“As was the case with the San Marcos Middle School, both of these results were due to bad fixtures, not a contaminated water supply, and they have been removed. We will be replacing the drinking fountains and hydration stations,” Roybal said.
Public Health Advocate Jason Pfeifle said it’s wrong for schools to allow children to drink from fountains measuring even five parts per billion.
"There is no safe level of lead in drinking water for kids," Pfeifle said. "These schools must protect children's health and shut off access to these water outlets immediately."
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, Pfeifle said.
He said CALPIRG suggests the district install filters on all water sources or shut off access to water measuring anything over one ppb.
Thirteen of the 18 school districts in the county, and some private schools, have now requested their school water tested for lead, according to the state data released Friday afternoon.
More than 100 of the schools requesting testing are in San Diego Unified, which recently announced it plans to test all of its some 200 schools for lead in water.
One school district, Warner Springs, was already required by the state to test their taps for lead (and copper), and have been performing this testing for many years.
That’s because they are permitted as a public water system and have their own water supply – a well that is currently contaminated with arsenic.
A spokeswoman said the Warner Springs school district has been working to lower dangerous levels of arsenic in its water supply and has been providing kids with bottled water for some time.
As of April 4, only about 3.5 percent of schools in the state had requested the new and free lead and copper testing.
The SWRCB released this map last week showing where schools have requested testing.
The agency sent updated data on which San Diego schools have requested testing to NBC7 on Friday.