Lead Found in SCS School Water


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Mandated by the EPA, the legal lead content in water cannot exceed 15 parts lead per one billion parts water. However, the Shelby County Health Department found contaminated water sources to have two to seven times the legal limit.

Dangerously high traces of lead in water have been found in schools across Shelby County, leaving children from kindergarten to high school at risk of lead poisoning. 

In mid October, Shelby County Schools (SCS) conducted their biennial lead test on school water sources, mandated by TN state law. SCS tested samples of water from 3,500 sources, primarily water fountains but also sinks, boilers, etc. for their lead content across the district’s 165 schools. 

Of the 3,500 samples collected by the Shelby County Health Department, a vast majority of them had marginally low or no traces of lead. However, traces of lead above the EPA’s national standard were found in more than 40 samples in 35 of the district’s schools, 15 of them being elementary schools. One particular sample from a water fountain in Gardenview Elementary School contained a lead content seven times above the legal threshold for lead-contaminated water.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), even the most miniscule traces of lead can be damaging, particularly to children and teenagers. Lead poisoning is most hazardous through constant exposure through mediums such as regularly used sinks or water fountains. While trace amounts of lead were found in only about 1% of samples taken by the Shelby County Health Department, the effects of lead poisoning are still highly dangerous.

“No safe blood lead level in children has been identified. Even low levels of lead in blood have been shown to affect IQ, ability to pay attention and academic achievement. And effects of lead exposure cannot be corrected,” the CDC said.

The Shelby County Health Department responded quickly to these test findings of contaminated water, and affected schools were immediately instructed to close the lead-contaminated water sources. All sinks, fountains, boilers and other water sources in Shelby County Schools are safe and adequate to use.

Shelby County Schools is aware of the severity of contaminated water and the harmful effects of lead poisoning on children. In response to the crisis at hand, the Shelby County Health Department and SCS are working together to offer free lead testing in multiple locations around Memphis to children who attended affected schools.