As a recent Seattle Times article shared, Washington State has flunked a national ranking of efforts to remove lead from drinking water in public schools and preschool centers. Of the 199 schools that volunteered to be tested by the Washington Department of Health, 97 percent were found to have at least one water source with levels above one part per billion (ppb).
The same study shows Oregon as one of the few states to improve their ranking, from an “F” grade in 2017 to a “C+” this year, thanks in large part to efforts by school districts to replace faucets and add filters to drinking water access points.
But the new State requirements in Oregon, and proposed measures in Washington for testing and permanent mitigation, raise a number of questions about what options are available for districts with physical or financial barriers to improvement.
As part of our safe drinking water efforts, our technical experts at The Part Works conduct walk-throughs for school facilities in Oregon and Washington. In these walk-throughs, we partner with facility staff to identify the best filtration and replacement solutions for each problem water source. While each school has its own unique facility, we’ve identified some common challenges and questions facing schools as they begin to address lead in their drinking water.
Below, we’ve shared resources and advice to answer frequently asked questions and help your school begin making a plan of action.
Testing for Lead
Oregon now requires all schools and childcare facilities to adopt a Healthy and Safe Schools Plan, including provisions for testing and reducing exposure to elevated levels of lead in water used for drinking or food preparation.
While the testing of school drinking water for lead or other contaminants is not mandatory in Washington State, new policy was considered this year in the Legislature that would have required testing and the adoption of a plan of action to address any elevated lead levels. Although the legislation stalled in committee and is unlikely to move forward in 2019, it has raised a number of questions about what options are available for districts that are already aware of safe drinking water issues in their facilities.
Before developing a Healthy and Safe Schools Plan or Plan of Action for your school, it’s important to assess the breadth of your facility needs. If you’ve already participated in lead testing, review the results with your facility staff. If your facility has not yet been tested, we recommend that you bring in a laboratory-certified technician to conduct sampling and testing. Check to see if your local utility offers free testing (the Portland Water Bureau offers free testing for all of their customers, including schools).
The Washington Department of Health offers a guide for reducing lead in drinking water in schools, which walks through the process of conducting sampling and understanding the available assistance from Public Water Suppliers, your Local Health office, the Washington State Drinking Water Program, Certified Laboratories, and Local Community Organizations. The Oregon Health Authority also offers a helpful guide on mitigation practices.
Developing your Plan of Action
Ideally, when a water source at a school is tested and found to have levels of lead above one ppb, that school would be able to replace problem faucets, piping, or soldering with lead-free alternatives. However, this isn’t always possible due to building and financial limitations.
Many facilities are constructed in brick or concrete, making the removal and replacement of problem components a significant challenge. It’s not always possible for a school to remove a wall in order to access the problem component. Even in schools that have piping accessible behind drywall, there aren’t always adequate financial resources in the district to address all issues at once.
“Start by looking at what the viable options are for each of the specific points of concern,” recommends Larry Farley, a TPW technical expert who consults with area school districts on filtration. “On facility walk throughs, we help facility managers and maintenance staff explore what solutions may or may not work for each problem water source.”
As is referenced in the Washington Department of Health guide, your school may consider a variety of possible solutions, such as:
- Routine control measures like cleaning maintenance, running water faucets before students arrive to remove sitting water that has been in contact with the faucet interior, or signage to notify users that water from a specific faucet should not be consumed.
- Short-term control measures like flushing the piping in your system, providing students and staff with bottled water, or disconnecting outlets that exceed ppb limits.
- Permanent remedies like replacing problem outlets or components, installing filters on taps, installing valves with a latent flush to keep the water moving through the piping system, coating pipes, or replacing lead pipes altogether.
“It’s clear that the staff we support really care about providing a safe facility that students can be proud of,” says Morgan Kennedy, a technical expert who has been with The Part Works for 29 years. “Our goal is to help them find the best solution for the greatest value. Often times, when we’re doing a safe drinking water walk-through of a building, we get questions related to other upcoming projects or areas of concern. I’m always happy to help customers talk through immediate and medium-term goals, maintenance solutions, and options to address issues incrementally when budget is a concern.”
Filtration solutions range from large units to individual filters, and are an important consideration for any water source that might be used for human consumption, such as drinking fountains, faucets, food service equipment, and ice machines. Most filters address dirt and sediment issues, however at The Part Works we also carry a range of brands that address taste and odor, lead and heavy contaminants, and organic materials.
In addition to replacing problem faucets and installing filters, many schools have opted to replace aerators in older faucets to remove buildup and bacteria in the spout.
Beyond filtration, many of our school facility partners are interested in valves, stops, supply lines, faucets, and drinking fountains that dispense potable water. Before purchasing parts for your school drinking water remediation, make sure that they have been manufactured to the specifications of the most recent law in your state. At The Part Works, we guarantee all parts and fixtures to be compliant with lead-free and safe drinking water legislation.
One Size Doesn't Fit All
Whether you hire The Part Works to conduct your solutions walk-through, or whether you have a technical expert on staff to assess available solutions, it’s essential to look at every identified problem water source individually to identify the best solution and brand for that location.
“The number one problem we hear from school districts is that they thought one facility or fixture was indicative of the whole district, so they purchased a bulk supply of fixtures or filters for the district only to find that the majority don’t fit the valves in their facilities,” says Larry Farley. “In these cases, they set out to get a discount by buying parts in bulk, only to find that they’ve actually increased the cost of the project exponentially in labor and materials to make the parts fit.”
Get It Right (the first time)
Whether you’re just getting started, reviewing lead testing results, or already in the process of updating your drinking water faucets, know that the work you’re putting into your building goes a long way to increase safety for students.
If you have questions or need help finding the right part for your facility, you can text our technical experts at 206.900.9093.
You can also book a technical expert to do a walk-through of your school to explore what filtration, replacement, or additional options will work for your building. As a leader in the industry providing solutions for 40 years, we’re here to help you stop guessing and start solving the problem. Our professional consulting and recommendations can improve quality and school safety.
“When you need to replace or upgrade products, getting the right materials will save you a lot of money in the installation,” says Katie Parris, President of The Part Works. “That’s really our role, to help customers find the right replacement or filtration part on the first try.”