LIHU‘E — High levels of lead have been found in water from faucets and drinking fountains at five public elementary schools on Kaua‘i.
At Kapa‘a, ‘Ele‘ele, Wilcox elementary schools, the levels were up to three times higher than acceptable levels, according to state Department of Education information.
Above-acceptable levels were also found in fountains at Kekaha and Kilauea schools.
The “project-action level” for lead is 15 parts per billion, and the highest concentration of led was found in one faucet at Kapa‘a Elementary, 74 ppb. The highest level at Wilcox was 68 ppb, and the highest level at ‘Ele‘ele was 49. Kekaha and Kilauea came in at 20 and 22 ppb, respectively.
About 4% of the water samples collected from faucets and drinking fountains at selected Hawai‘i public schools and child-care facilities show elevated concentrations of lead.
Water from those sources are no longer being used while ongoing monitoring and testing is conducted.
The state departments of health, human services and DOE launched the first phase of a joint project in February 2021 to test drinking-water sources at selected schools and child-care facilities for the presence of lead.
On Kaua‘i, three preschools and seven residential child-care facilities were tested, and the water at all of those places tested below project-action level, according to a DOE release.
Testing of 58 schools and 70 child care facilities in Hawai‘i, Maui and Kaua‘i counties had been completed as of Thursday.
To date, 93 of the 2,232 sampled taps at schools show elevated concentrations of lead above the project-action level of 15 parts per billion. Four of the 100 sampled taps at child-care facilities had results above the action level. Altogether, about 4% of sampled taps have had results above the action level. Comparable projects on the mainland have had rates of about 5% to 6%.
“Our keiki are at the highest risk for health effects from lead exposure, so this joint effort is important to ensure young students, teachers and parents can have peace of mind knowing their drinking water is safe,” said State Toxicologist Dr. Diana Felton. “Identifying the sites where lead is above the action level is the first step to minimizing children’s exposure to lead.”
The project is part of a nationwide program established under the Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation Act of 2016 to test drinking-water sources for lead from the faucets of classroom sinks and kitchen sinks as well as drinking fountains in schools and child-care centers.
“The schools and child-care facilities were notified immediately upon the receipt of the results, and those water sources are no longer in use,” said Michael Miyahara, acting branch chief of the DOH Safe Water Drinking Branch.
”We would like to assure the community that taps that had elevated levels of lead will not be used for drinking or food preparation until the problem is fixed,” he said.
Facilities with lead concentrations that are below the project action level of 15 ppb have also been notified, and have been provided strategies to minimize exposure, such as daily flushing of the water, using certified lead-free filters, or turning the tap into a hand-wash-only station.
Initial results indicate that the fixtures (faucets) are the problem in most cases, but follow-up testing is occurring to define if the problem is the individual fixture or the premise plumbing behind the wall.
“It is important to note that any positive results do not mean there is lead in the water being provided to the school or child-care facility from the public water-supply departments,” said Miyahira.
“Historically, our regulated water systems in Hawai‘i have not had lead contamination, and our initial findings continue to support this.”
The DOE is creating a plan for the replacement of affected fixtures or evaluation of the plumbing of schools where results showed elevated levels of lead.
This current project will test 106 DOE elementary schools and 123 DHS-licensed child-care facilities, which were selected based on criteria established by the federal Environmental Protection Agency.
The majority of childhood lead exposures in Hawai‘i happen in the home, usually from deteriorated lead-based paint, the smelting of lead fishing sinkers, or lead-contaminated soil. However, it is possible that repeated drinking of water containing lead can contribute to a child’s lead exposure.