47 schools found with elevated drinking water LEAD levels

State admits communication failure after 47 schools found with elevated drinking water lead levels.


Drinking water at 47 Delaware public and charter schools tested above accepted standards for lead, and a collection of parents, teachers, and community members asked health officials why there has been a delayed response.

Department of Health and Social Services Secretary Molly Magarik, Secretary of Education Mark Holodick, along with a representative from the Environmental Protection Agency took part in a virtual forum to discuss the findings of two sets of tests taken on water outlets including water foundations, kitchens, and other outlets.

Delaware received an EPA grant in February 2020 to test the lead levels in schools, and conducted the first round of tests in October 2020, with a series of retests done through this summer for outlets that registered lead levels at 15 parts per billion (ppb), the EPA standard for mitigating contamination.

S ome schools had as many as seven different outlets fail either the 15 ppb standard, or the revised 7.5 for the second round.

James Hanes, an environmental scientist with the Delaware Division of Social Services, said that school users should feel safe drinking from water fountains that remain open, after districts were ordered to turn off water to those that exceeded the 7.5 ppb limit.

"They were instructed that those fixtures are to be temporarily discontinued until we have a further review and can be sound in the data and be sure that it is not posing a threat to either students or staff in those buildings."

One of the big concerns voiced during a 65-minute public comment section is why there was a delay between the October announcement of testing levels, and the shutting off of some systems.

One parent reported that Wilson Elementary in the Christina School District waited until last week, and that her child had tested at an advanced level for lead exposure, and was waiting to hear back the results from their two siblings.

Jamie Mack of the Department of Education, who previously worked at the Delaware Division of Public Health, said there was a breakdown in communication when the results were shared with maintenance professionals, but not the school communities at-large.

"The communication is not what it should have been. We should have been more engaged with the districts, DHSS and DOE should have been working together to see if this was the right path forward and make changes if necessary."

Magarik emphasized that even though 47 schools (see below) have tested positive, at this point Delaware is not facing a crisis at the level of Flint, Michigan.

"The communication is not what it should have been. We should have been more engaged with the districts, DHSS and DOE should have been working together to see if this was the right path forward and make changes if necessary."

Magarik emphasized that even though 47 schools (see below) have tested positive, at this point Delaware is not facing a crisis at the level of Flint, Michigan.

"There is not a widespread recommendation or a concern at a population-health level that students have been exposed to catastrophic lead levels such that universal testing and screening would be recommended."

Some parents called for the state to test all students at the affected schools, which range all grade levels and counties, but Magarik said they don't have a reason at the moment to believe that any student with advanced lead levels simply got them from school water, noting there are old housing that could also have lead in their pipes. 

"We will continue to look at this, but what we don't want to do is panic people and tell people that there is an issue that these schools have directly caused the lead poisoning of children. That is not something that the levels have indicated."

Magirik recommended getting students tested if parents felt it is necessary, and pointed out some effects of potential lead poisoning.

"It can show up as developmental delays, children struggling with schoolwork, and being unable to maintain work on grade level."

Magarik said the state will be making mobile testing units, most commonly seen during COVID-19 testing two years ago, available, but that parents have, and should use, other options, if possible.

"The intent of the mobile vehicle is to serve communities that would not otherwise have access. We would encourage people if you do have a pediatrician, if you do have a medical home, please have that conversation with your pediatrician or your family's primary care physician."

Education Secretary Holodick took the blame for the delayed response, but said the Department of Education plans to respond, but noted it could become a costly repair if it becomes more than just replacing out old water fountains to more filtered options.

"This is not going to be a flash in the pan. We're now working with the EPA to make sure we get this right, and test across the entire state and our schools and remediate where we have pipes that are causing problems."

No one from politicians to the DOE would commit to what a potential cost of replacing the Delaware school water system, other than saying that additional testing would be part of the upcoming FY 2024 budget negotiations.

Monday's meeting was a virtual forum, which allowed the public to ask questions, as opposed to an official legislative hearing, which can't be held until the next session of legislators are sworn in during January.

Among the other questions asked by the community is why schools aren't supplying bottled water at affected schools, and whether those schools should be sent into hybrid mode.

Parents also asked why this type of testing had not been done before 2020, as the state could not supply data on whether this is better or worse than previous years, saying testing was just done on the water system as a whole, not the individual fixtures.

The study did not cover child care centers in the initial funding, so those schools have not been tested, and the study did not include any private school data.

Schools with at least one site that failed 7.5 ppb lead level threshold

(Complete test results after the list) 

  • Brandywine: Brandywine HS, Concord HS, Forewood ES, Lancashire ES, Mount Pleasant HS, 
  • Caesar Rodney: Dover AFB MS, Caesar Rodney HS
  • Cape Henlopen: Milton ES, Shields ES
  • Capital: Fairview ES, Kent County ILC, Towne Point ES, William Henry MS
  • Christina: Christiana HS, Gauger Cobbs MS, Glasgow HS, Newark HS, Wilson ES
  • Colonial: Castle Hills ES, Gunning Beford MS, Leach, Wilbur ES, McCullough MS, Wallin School, William Penn HS
  • Indian River: Garver Educational, Ingram Pond Outdoor, Clayton HS, Long Neck ES, Millsboro MS, Showell ES
  • Lake Forest: Lake Forest North ES, Laurel HS
  • New Castle County Vo-Tech: Delcastle HS, Marshallton
  • Red Clay: A.I. duPont HS, A.I. duPont MS, Baltz ES, Cab Calloway, H.B. duPont MS, Groves HS, Skyline MS, Warner ES
  • Seaford: Seaford MS
  • Smyrna: Bassett, Smyrna MS
  • Woodbridge: Woodbridge HS
  • Charters: Friere Charter

SEE A COMPLETE DETAILED LIST HERE https://www.wdel.com/state-admits-communication-failure-after-47-schools-found-with-elevated-drinking-water-lead-levels/article_8750d102-6483-11ed-9e9d-7734397d2308.html

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