Arizona Department of Environmental Quality continues testing water for lead in schools

Posted at 4:05 PM, May 26, 2017
and last updated 2017-05-27 17:06:54-04

The Arizona Department of Environmental Quality has been working around the clock since January as they have been trying to test thousands of school water samples.

"We're adding on about 200 samples a day, so it definitely does add on to the workloads," said Sales and Marketing Manager Marci Payne with Legend Technical Services, Inc. That is one of the facilities taking on a big amount of samples at their building near I-17 and Bell Road.

They are looking for higher levels of lead. They have deemed anything about 15 parts per billion is too high and unsafe, especially for children.

ADEQ said, the decision to test were proactive measures and mostly a reaction to scenes like those in Flint, Michigan.

"Once we started seeing all the attention for lead in the news media, we started asking ourselves: 'Well, what's the situation in Arizona,'" said ADEQ Director Misael Cabrera.

Now, the department has about one month left of their timeline to finishing testing at more than 7,000 school buildings.

ABC15 decided to get an exclusive look at the process of testing inside the Legend Technical Services, Inc. Lab.

The massive amount of testing is very meticulous. But, for Director of Operations Lisa Teter it is necessary.

"Our children are drinking this water and it's really good to know that people care," Teter said.

Teter, along with a handful of other employees, are taking on a much more extensive workload.

Each of those 7,000 buildings require multiple samples. In all, ADEQ estimates they will have collected and processed roughly 14,000 samples.

"Those samples are organized by the analyst and labeled with numbers that correspond with numbers on the little files and tubes..." Teter described.

The massive piece of machinery will select the sample and scan it; checking to see if any sample tests above that 15 ppb threshold.

"The goal of the program is to identify sources of exposure and mitigate them immediately," Director Cabrera explained.

Some of those results have already come back, but there is still testing of roughly 400 schools that needs to be done.

In instances where schools have come back with high levels of lead, ADEQ had provided recommendations to the school to fix it.

An example would be Sirrine Elementary School near Elliot Road and Alma School Road. They had five samples that tested too high and ADEQ asked that they shut off drinking water to the building and flush the fixtures.

Then, in Mesa at Webster Elementary near Dobson Road and Main Street they had three high testings. They were also asked to flush fixtures.

"Once we have all the data in, we'll also be able to look at, what are the long-term considerations? And we'll be working with our partners at the school facilities board to figure that out," Director Cabrera said.