Letters are going home this week to notify parents of water testing in elementary and prekindergarten schools. The RPS 205 Facilities Department has worked ahead of pending legislation for the past two months to test for lead. Gov. Bruce Rauner approved a bill this week that requires elementary schools and daycare centers to test drinking fountains, sinks and other water sources for lead.
Schools are being tested in phases. As results are received, principals are sharing letters with families that provide test results and more information about the process. Ten schools will receive their initial results this week. Additional results and letters will be distributed in the coming weeks.
The new law requires school districts to test water sources – such as fountains and sinks – used for drinking and cooking. Schools built before 1987 that educate K-5th grade students must test their water by Dec. 31, 2017. In RPS 205, that includes 31 schools. Schools built after 1987 through 2000 must be tested by Dec. 31, 2018. District officials are planning those additional tests. The law also requires organizations to notify parents of those results. Complete results will be posted on rps205.com once they’re available.
“We knew environmental organizations were pushing this legislation, and it makes sense,” said Chief Operations Officer Todd Schmidt. “We’re moving as quickly as possible to make sure our students and staff have clean, safe water.”
The Environmental Protection Agency says water tested at 15 parts per billion or higher requires action. (For some context, the highest level found in Flint, Mich., registered at 13,000 parts per billion.) Any fixtures in the district that test at or above 15 parts per billion have been – and will continue to be – shut off and bagged. Affected water fixtures will be repaired and/or replaced, and they will not be available for use until they retest below that acceptable threshold. About 75 percent of fixtures that have failed the test (including drinking fountains and other water sources) have been replaced and are waiting to be retested.
Administrators are estimating costs for the testing and repairs. The district does not have lead service pipes, but it does have components or parts used in the construction of the water supply system that contain lead.
Initial tests included about 10 samples per school, depending on school size. In some cases, tests included water sources that are not used for drinking or cooking, such as water from a maintenance closet sink. Since those samples were taken, legislation has been updated to require water samples at every fixture used for cooking or drinking. Additional tests are pending.
Facilities staff are collecting samples; PDC Laboratories, Inc. in Peoria, an environmental laboratory certified through the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency, is running the tests. Taking water samples does not disrupt the school day.