Contamination Crisis


Daniel Cohen, Sports Section Editor/Business Manager

For years, lead contamination in faraway places has permeated the news, but unbeknownst to St. Louis citizens, lead contamination now exists in our backyards.

On March 2, 2016, St. Louis City Public School District began testing water fountains and sinks in their schools due to “the national concern about lead in the drinking water, along with a request from parents at one of our schools,” said Roger CayCe, Deputy Superintendent of Operations/Building Commissioner.
When parents send their children to school, they trust that their child is in a safe environment, but upon receiving the results of the water samplings, the St. Louis City Public School District learned that its water was contaminated with lead.

Lead-contaminated water jeopardizes the safety of the District’s students and staff. According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, “[Young children are] particularly vulnerable to lead because the physical and behavioral effects of lead occur at lower exposure levels in children.” The presence of any amount of lead in a child’s body can have severe long term consequences. Even low levels of exposure can cause damage to the central and peripheral nervous system, learning disabilities, shorter stature, impaired hearing, and dysfunctioning blood cells.

The EPA requires immediate action if drinking water from a public water source contains lead levels at 15 parts per billion or higher. The St. Louis City Public School District has created a standard that mandates no more than 10 parts per billion of lead in their water sources.

According to CayCe, “Any drinking fountain or sink that came back with a lead level in excess of 10 parts per billion” was shut down. As a replacement, bottled waters were provided to students.

The fountains and sinks will not be reactivated until lead levels fall beneath 10 parts per billion and the water sources have been retested.

An investigation of the source of contamination will be conducted. Because many of the District’s buildings were built prior to 1986 when lead pipes were acceptable, many of the District’s officials believe the buildings to be a likely source of the lead contamination. As water flows through the pipes, it becomes contaminated with particles of this lead.

After examination, the $1 million set aside by the Special Administrative Board will be used to fix or replace any drinking source that has a lead concentration of 10 parts per billion or more. Of the 88 water sources that exceed this school’s standard for action, 18 of them contain lead levels over 100 parts per billion, and some even reach 280 parts per billion.

The District plans to develop a schedule for testing all consumable water sources in order to catch any future problems as they arise.

Chris Tennill, Chief Communications Officer at Clayton, said, “I think it is not a bad idea just to check and make sure that all the water at our schools is safe. We really don’t have any reason to suspect we have contamination but we decided to bring a consultant on board to do the testing just to confirm that.”
Although the Clayton School District is confident that lead isn’t present in its drinking fountains or sinks, the District thinks it is important to test its water. “When you look at the impacts that [lead] can have on young developing brains, you know we want to definitely make sure that all of our water supplies and drinking fountains, bathrooms, and kitchens are as safe as we think [they are]” Tennill said.

While the tests are not complete, Tennill and other school district officials are quite confident there is not any lead in Clayton’s water sources. As Tennill said, “We’re primarily [testing our water] just to confirm what we believe, which is [that] we don’t have any issues in any of [Clayton’s] schools.”