False alarm regarding lead contamination hits Berkeley High School community

Reni De La Nuez/Staff

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A lead contamination scare concerning a water fountain at Berkeley High School — which turned out to be a false alarm — occurred shortly after a report containing data on lead in drinking water samples was released.

The data, compiled by the California State Water Resources Control Board, were issued in a press release June 18. According to Berkeley Unified School District spokesperson Charles Burress, a “faulty” test found that a fountain at the school had a lead contamination of 640 parts per billion, or ppb.

While state law dictates that action must be taken to deal with levels of lead above 15 ppb, the school district mandates that action be taken after 1 ppb is detected, Burress said.

Regarding the faulty test of a water fountain at Berkeley High that showed 640 ppb of lead contamination, the test result was a mistake,” Burress said in an email. “The test was conducted during a second round of testing in February, following the first round of testing in December.”

If a fountain is rarely used, lead can build up in its pipes, Burress said. He added that given that the parts of the fountain that were in need of replacement are no longer sold, the district felt it wise to remove said fountain and three others of a similar model from the premises.

As of now, the fountains have been covered with plastic to prevent use, and water flow has been restricted from entering these fountains, according to Burress.

“It was an issue with the fountain. The school district had bagged it and shut off the valve in order to remove it from service,” said East Bay Municipal Utility District spokesperson Tracie Morales.

According to the press release, if a school’s lead level exceeds 15 ppb, the school must also take several actions, including shutting down all fountains and faucets exhibiting high levels of lead, providing potable drinking water until the presence of lead is removed from the water and notifying the guardians of students. Additional testing may be required to decide if more of the school’s fountains and faucets need to be shut down.

In January 2018, six schools were reported to be in violation of BUSD’s lead contamination limits. Since BUSD mandates the removal of any fixtures found to have more than 1 ppb of lead, a 10-month plan was introduced to combat the lead contamination problem.

“National events have highlighted the importance of ongoing water quality monitoring and in 2015 Governor Edmund G. Brown Jr. directed the State Water Board to incorporate schools into the regular water quality testing that community water systems conduct at customer’s taps,” the press release stated.

Contact Jasmine Sheena at [email protected].