HAMMOND — School board members were eager to craft an action plan Monday night after receiving a lengthy summary report hot off the presses that detailed how an environmental consulting firm discovered elevated lead levels in some school water fixtures.
Testing conducted by the Whiting-based Pekron Consulting, Inc. discovered a series of drinking fountains and sinks registered at elevated lead levels when tested Aug. 9 through 14 at seven buildings, including six schools, within the School City of Hammond district.
The buildings include Morton High School, the Hammond Area Career Center, Clark Middle/High School, Columbia Elementary School, Scott Middle School, Lafayette Elementary and the Miller school facility. Buildings were targeted if built before 1986 — the year lead was banned for use in water supply systems.
“(We sampled) any water source where people drink, cook, consumer or ingest,” said Brian Rempert, certified hygienist with Pekron.
Of 247 sources tested, 193 fixtures had detectable levels — or above two parts per billion but below the government’s allowable level of 15 parts per billion, Rempert said.
Ninety-six structures registered as “approaching action level,” so Pekron flagged those for further testing as well. As a precaution, those structures, mostly water fountains, were taken out of service until further testing could be done. Bottled water has been provided.
“Approaching means anything greater than 12 parts per billion and that we might need to address those as well,” Rempert said.
Pekron acknowledged that first round may be skewed because testing was conducted in June, when fountains had been out of use for some time.
Terry O’Grady, operational manager for Pekron, recommended they sample elevated fixtures a second time after flushing the systems. He also recommended they test in areas not previously tested, such as ice makers and in non-educational areas used by instructors but not students.
Board President Deborah White seemed keen on re-testing fixtures within two weeks, crafting an action plan, and posting signs that read “not for consumption” or “do not drink” or in areas that were not tested — such as non-educational sections and in science labs and sinks.
Board member Cindy Murphy suggested they go one step further at elementary schools, where young children may not understand the signage, by testing all fixtures, including sinks.
Board member George T. Janiec asked how the district should ensure the systems are flushed appropriately in future years.
“If there’s a break, like Christmas break, that’s longer than a week, our recommendation is to flush the water systems before they come back to school,” Rempert said.
The school board did not receive the full report until Monday night, White said. She said it’s likely she, the board and the public will have more questions.
She directed Pekron to work with the district’s technology department to post a copy of full report — absent school floor plans due to safety concerns — on the district's website by Tuesday morning.
Pekron also pointed out that aging lead service lines are a common problem in older homes and structures — and oftentimes the culprit behind lead leaking into the drinking water.
Lafayette Elementary teacher Kim Campbell said Pekron answered many of her questions about testing methods and even prompted her to think about the possibility that she has lead lines in her older home.
Carlotta Blake-King, a Hammond resident, on the other hand, argued the district should have conducted this level of testing years ago, given the known age of the school buildings and danger of lead.
"This should have been uncovered long ago," Blake-King said after the meeting.