The crisis in Flint, MI has raised public awareness about the dangers of lead in drinking water.
The I-team has uncovered that students at a Pinellas County high school are taking extra precautions after high levels of lead were detected there.
“They were getting a bad taste,” said Juan Almeda, describing his sons’ reaction to the drinking water at Tarpon Springs High School.
“The water was like a yellow color. It was disgusting,” said Alecia Johnson, a Tarpon Springs High student.
Parents and students at Tarpon Springs High school have been worrying lately, after learning water at the school was contaminated with high levels of lead.
“It's a big concern when you find lead in the water,” said student Richard Chriswell.
“We're supposed to trust the water we're drinking here,” said Johnson.
“This is an issue that obviously raises a red flag to a lot of parents,” said Pinellas County Schools spokesperson Lisa Wolf.
She says discolored water was first noticed when students returned from Thanksgiving break.
Testing was done and problems were found in two areas of the school, which have older plumbing.
“One was above the EPA's recommendation for lead levels and the other was approaching the threshold,” Wolf said.
The district notified parents, provided bottled water.
“The two most recent tests have all come back normal or below the threshold set by the EPA, but as an added precaution, for anyone who's concerned, we are still providing bottles of water to students and staff if they'd like them,” Wolf said.
“That concerns me a lot, after what happened in Flint,” said Alameda.
The city says it's not the same as Flint, because the water source is not contaminated.
A Tarpon Springs spokesperson said in a statement, “A total of 58 samples within the city's water distribution system have been tested since November 2015. The results are that all the samples were below the action limit for lead.”
But the school district believes a new water treatment practice by the city may partially be to blame.
“When cities use reverse osmosis, that can, in older pipes, cause lead to leach out of the pipe,” Wolf said.
A nationwide EPA database does not indicate that high lead levels have been detected at any other Florida public school.
But schools in other parts of the country are dealing with lead in old pipes, including those in Los Angeles, Baltimore and Newark.
Testing water for lead in schools is not required in Florida.
“It's just not common practice to test for water quality. But in light of the situation at Tarpon Springs High School, we want to be extremely pro-active, so we will identify certain schools with a little older infrastructure in place, where we can do proactive testing,” said Wolf.
Early estimates put the cost of replacing the old plumbing at Tarpon Springs High alone at between $300,000 and $650,000.
Once the school district finalizes its plan, work will begin immediately, in hopes that a permanent solution will be in place by the time students return from their summer break.
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