Arizona Department of Environmental Quality testing lead levels in water at Valley schools

Posted at 5:58 PM, Jan 18, 2017
and last updated 2017-01-19 10:11:39-05

Officials have begun testing more than 1,000 schools across the state for possible high levels of lead in the water supply.

According to the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality, the testing is a proactive measure designed to see if lead levels in the water are at levels that may pose harm to children's health.

The testing is expected to take six months to complete and includes taking a total of 14,000 samples from more than 7,000 buildings across 205 districts.

"Right now, we don't have a clear picture," explained Trevor Baggiore, the director of the Water Quality Division for the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality.

To him, our water is not crystal clear, mostly because it has never been mass-tested like this before. 

"Schools have never been sampled," Baggiore said. "They are not legally required to do that." 

But, the boiling point for the department to take action was watching the turmoil spilling throughout places like Flint, Michigan.

"We've seen some results from other states that have taken samples at schools that have come back above the threshold of 15-parts-per-billion," Baggiore said. "And so it caused us some concern." 

To take action, they created a list that was focused on things like the age of the students, as well as the age of the buildings themselves. 

"In 1987 is when the EPA started regulating lead content in the copper pipes and in the fixtures," Baggiore said. "Anything prior to that could have higher levels of lead — which is a higher risk."

The department is planning to physically go to some schools, but they will also be giving out kits for them to collect water themselves. From there, they can send it off to the lab. 

As of Tuesday, results posted on ADEQ's website showed 15 schools had already been tested. Of those, San Manuel High School, in Pinal County, had a sample test above the 15 parts-per-billion federal standard for drinking water.  

If the testing comes back to have levels of lead above the threshold, Baggiore plans on working with those specific schools to take immediate action as well as try and find "long-term solutions."

The department said they hope to have a more transparent idea of a potential water problem in the next six months after they get those results back. 

"The project is to identify unearthed problems that exist — we just don't know about them," Baggiore said. "We'll work together with our partners to find solutions."