School & District Management

Chicago Plans Community Meetings After High Lead Levels Found in Some Schools

By Denisa R. Superville — June 15, 2016 2 min read
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The Chicago school district has scheduled a series of community meetings to talk to parents about the results of lead tests conducted in recent months in which 4.3 percent of the sinks and drinking water fountains tested in 78 schools had elevated levels of lead in the water.

Since it started the voluntary lead testing program in April, the district has shut off fixtures and fountains at 23 schools.

After the Flint water crisis, some school districts have started to voluntarily test their drinking water or review tests that had been taken in the past but not analyzed in detail. (There is no federal requirement for schools to test their drinking water annually if it comes from a municipal water source.)

In Chicago, the initial pilot program was limited to 32 schools. (The district chose 28 schools and four more offered to pay for their own tests, according to the Chicago Sun-Times.) After tests showed high lead levels at one elementary school, the district expanded the program to all schools.

The oldest schools and those with the youngest students are among the first being tested.

The last batch of results has prompted more alarm. One of the schools with high lead levels is one used by young children with cognitive and physical disabilities. The highest reading at the school, called the Blair Early Childhood Center, was 1,100 parts-per-billion. The federal action level is 15 parts-per-billion.

Of the 78 schools that have been tested thus far, 23 had elevated results—at one or two fixtures, according to the district—that were above the EPA action level.

Twenty-six of the elevated samples were from drinking water fountains, 22 from sinks, and four in kitchens, the district said. The district is awaiting results on additional samples.

WBEZ Education put together this easy-to-read graphic on the test results.

The district has planned seven hour-long community meetings, beginning on Monday, June 20th .

“Ensuring the safety of our children’s water is a top priority, so the primary focus of CPS’ resources is to make sure that our most critical schools are tested as quickly as possible,” district spokeswoman Emily Bittner said in a statement.

“At the same time, we are working to determine the causes in all our schools and develop remediation plans for the 4 percent of drinking fountains and sinks that have lead above the federal action level. In the meantime, all 48 affected drinking fountains and sinks have been turned off immediately, and parents were notified immediately.”

More information is available on a special page the district set up to disseminate information on the lead-testing program.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the District Dossier blog.