HAMMOND — Seven schools in the School City of Hammond tested above action levels in the district's most recent round of sampling for lead in drinking water sources.
Two other buildings in the Hammond district — the administration and maintenance buildings — also tested above action levels set by the Indiana Department of Environmental Management, according to a presentation given by Whiting-based Pekron Consulting in a Tuesday night board meeting.
This round of testing comes following a series of tests conducted last summer that led the district to remove 52 drinking fountains from service in nine schools. However, Pekron determined these results may have been skewed due to irregular water use during the summer and recommended further sampling in the Hammond schools.
Immediately after the first round of water sampling, all affected waters sources were removed and five-gallon water coolers were made available, new School City of Hammond superintendent Scott Miller said.
Pekron's most recent round of sampling included 14 buildings total — 11 schools, as well as the district administration, maintenance and transportation centers — as constructed prior to 1986 when legal requirements for new potable water systems became stricter, said James Burggraf, executive director of buildings and grounds for the Hammond district.
Upon an initial draw of just under 500 district drinking water sources, such as fountains, bubblers, ice machines and more, 115 water sources in all but the transportation building tested above the IDEM limit of 15 parts per billion of lead to water. In a second draw, only 32 water sources among seven schools and the administration and transportation buildings tested above IDEM's action level.
Those schools include Columbia and Lafayette elementaries; Miller School; Scott Middle School; Clark and Morton high schools; and the Hammond Area Career Center. Franklin and Lincoln elementaries; Gavit and Hammond high schools; and the district's transportation center were also tested, but were found to have no action level water sources in Pekron's second draw.
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In buildings that met or exceeded IDEM's action level, signs labeled "Not Drinking Water — Do Not Drink" were placed above affected sinks and non-drinking water sources, and other affected drinking water sources, such as fountains and bubblers, were phased out or removed, Burggraf said. In some locations, the district provided alternative drinking water sources like water coolers.
Miller said the school city's plumbing team has been working to determine the source of lead detected in the buildings and has begun remediation where feasible. Where not feasible, the Hammond schools will continue to provide water coolers.
Burggraf said the school city is working with Pekron to test schools in phases and he expects all Hammond schools constructed after 1986 will be tested by 2020. An extended report on Hammond schools' response to the lead water testing will be posted to the district website, Burggraf said Tuesday night.
"The reason for not immediately testing all schools was that Hammond drinking water has consistently tested in the safe range and the Safe Drinking Water Act of 1986 banned all uses of lead pipe and solder in public water systems," Miller said in a provided statement. "Therefore, schools constructed after 1986 would not likely have lead in their systems since lead products would have been illegal to construct with and the water coming into the school from the city has always been reported as safe."
School Board member Carlotta Blake-King urged expediency in testing the rest of the schools in the district, especially Eggers Middle School, Maywood Elementary School and Lew Wallace Elementary School.
"These are children," Blake-King said. "I don't think we should bypass those schools."