Sandra Porter, the cook and water operator at Ozark Action Head Start in Ava, Missouri, pours a gallon of bottled water into a bowl while she cooks for the children attending Ava Head Start. Buying bottled water for drinking has been the routine at Ava Head Start in West Plains, Missouri, even before lead levels spiked after the preschool moved into a new building in 2010. But it was not until February 2016, after another round of high test results, that state regulators told the preschool to use bottled water for cooking and cleaning the toothbrushes for the 59 children, ages 3 and 4. Photo: Guillermo Hernandez Martinez / The Springfield News-Leader

By John Seewer
10 April 2016

TOLEDO, Ohio (Associated Press) – Responding to the crisis in Flint, Michigan, school officials across the country are testing classroom sinks and cafeteria faucets for lead, trying to uncover any concealed problems and to reassure anxious parents.

Just a fraction of schools and day care centers nationwide are required to check for lead because most receive their water from municipal systems that test at other locations. State and federal lawmakers have called for wider testing.

Among schools and day care centers operating their own water systems, Environmental Protection Agency data analyzed by The Associated Press showed 278 violated federal lead levels at some point during the past three years. Roughly a third of those had lead levels that were at least double the federal limit. In almost all cases, the problems can be traced to aging buildings with lead pipes, older drinking fountains and water fixtures that have parts made with lead.

Riverside Elementary in the northern Wisconsin town of Ringle has lead pipes buried in its concrete foundation that used to leach into the tap water before a filtration system was installed. Replacing the pipes, which were installed when the school was built in the 1970s, is not an option.

"For the cost of that, you might as well build a new school," said Jack Stoskopf, an assistant superintendent.

Instead, he said, school officials decided to rip out the drinking fountains more than a decade ago and buy bottled water for students, costing about $1,000 a month.

Buying bottled water for drinking has been the routine at Ava Head Start in West Plains, Missouri, even before lead levels spiked after the preschool moved into a new building in 2010. But it was not until February, after another round of high test results, that state regulators told the preschool to use bottled water for cooking and cleaning the toothbrushes for the 59 children, ages 3 and 4.

"The cost is not an option," said Sandra Porter, Ava's cook and water operator. "We're just doing what we have to." [more]

Water with unsafe lead amounts found in hundreds of schools

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