HOWARD COUNTY, Ind. (Feb. 16, 2016) - The Howard County Health Department announced Tuesday test results from water samples in Eastern Howard County schools.
Trace levels of lead were found inside a classroom at Eastern High School in January. The school immediately shut down access to drinking fountains and sinks. Since then, the school opened the sinks back up after determining with the health department that it was safe for students and staff to wash their hands.
The Howard County Health Department conducted tests with more than 40 samples throughout schools in Eastern Howard County. The results from February 9 showed levels at 33 parts per billion (ppb) and 22 ppb in the main water pipes going into the Performing Arts Center.
Health Department Officer Dr. Don Zent said the center is a facility with low water usage, meaning water doesn't frequently flow through the pipes as it would the cafeteria or bathrooms.
"The stagnation factor, in other words, how long the water sits in the plumbing before it's drawn off. The time of day the sampling's are taken and the flow of water," explained Dr. Zent. He added, those are the reasons for the variable numbers in the testing.
Zent said if water flowed more frequently through the pipes, the levels would likely be even lower.
Right now, the school is working to figure out the source of the lead, but believe the pipes are the first place to start when it comes to looking for a solution. Greentown water announced emergency procedures to add equipment. The utility has already added phosphates to the water supply. The chemical is designed to help reduce the effects of lead leeching onto pipes. Officials with the Indiana Department of Environmental Management said the phosphates would be effective enough to flow through the water supply's main source and into homes, preventing the long term effects of lead.
"The results of the lead elevations are secondary to a leeching process that comes from different components in the plumbing that contain lead," Zent said. "One that phosphate is put in the water and it stops the corrosion process and the leeching of the lead from the pipes in the plumbing components, then testing will be done."
In the meantime, the school district is continuing to use bottled water for students and staff to drink and for cooking.
"We're not going to allow students to drink the water until we're absolutely sure that it's safe. If it takes weeks or it takes months, we're going to do whatever it takes to make sure our children are safe," said Eastern Howard County Schools Superintendent Dr. Tracy Caddell.
The school district is offering free blood lead screenings on Friday, Feb. 19. Parents who wish to have their children screened will be required to sign a wavier that can be found by clicking here.
Howard County Health Department representatives said there's a chance they will see traces of lead during the screenings. However, that doesn't mean students were exposed to lead in the drinking water.
"There may have been some other source of lead in this child's environment that caused that positive level," said Howard County Health Department Public Health Nursing Practitioner, Jennifer Sexton, R.N. "Lead in the water is not the primary source of lead poisoning in children. It's an extremely small issue."
Students and staff who test positive will have a more in depth test to determine the levels. The health department will then complete evaluations to determine where the source of lead is coming from and create a plan for treatment. The most common form of lead poisoning is caused by lead-based paint.