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CPS: Bottled Water Not Needed At Schools That Haven't Been Tested For Lead

By Joe Ward | August 31, 2016 4:35pm
 Alderman Jason C. Ervin (28th) speaks about lead levels in CPS drinking water at a special hearing on the issue at City Hall.
Alderman Jason C. Ervin (28th) speaks about lead levels in CPS drinking water at a special hearing on the issue at City Hall.
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DNAinfo/Joe Ward

CITY HALL — CPS will begin its second round of lead testing shortly after the school year starts, and city officials said students reporting to as-yet-untested schools will be drinking from the water fountains as normal.

About 200 schools will be tested starting on Sept. 13, a week after CPS schools open for the year. Students and faculty at those schools will use the drinking fountains and kitchen faucets as normal until CPS can determine if any of the water sources are contaminated with dangerous levels of lead, school and city officials said at a special hearing on lead in water Wednesday at City Hall.

Taking questions from aldermen and concerned citizens, officials said that bottled water or other precautionary measures will not be made at the yet-untested schools.

That's because such a measure would be largely unnecessary, said Jason Kierna chief facilities officer for CPS.

For one, the schools that have not been tested are mainly high schools consisting of older kids who are not as vulnerable to lead poisoning. Or they are schools built after 1986, when lead-based paint was banned.

Plus, the fountains will be in regular use during school days, meaning that water will not be stagnant enough for dangerous levels of lead to accumulate, officials said.

"There is no plan to have bottled water due to controls we have in place," Kierna said. "We don't feel it's necessary to take [that] drastic measure."

The school district began testing schools for lead in drinking water in April, after tests determined a problem with a water source at Tanner Elementary, 7350 S. Evans Ave.

It started with schools that contained pre-kindergarten programs, as children aged 2 or younger are the most vulnerable to lead poisoning, said Dr. Julie Morita, commissioner of the Chicago Department of Public Health.

CPS also targeted schools built before 1986, when lead-based paint was outlawed.

Since then, CPS has found 113 schools with at least one problematic water source, Kierna said. A total of 184 water sources were found to have dangerous levels of lead, he said.

All schools will be tested out of an abundance of precaution, Kierna said. Testing will wrap up in November, he said.

Kierna said parents do not need to worry about their children potentially drinking contaminated water at the untested schools, saying the district has measures in place to ensure safe drinking water. He mentioned a "flushing program" put into place to keep fresh water moving through school pipes.

"We will make sure there is an adequate amount of safe drinking water in those schools," he said on the council floor.

But some said CPS is worried too much with the EPA's lead "action level," which states that a water source with 15 parts per billion of lead is unsafe to drink.

That figure has come under scrutiny from activists, who said there is no level of lead in water that can be deemed safe.

"There is no safe level of lead in our children's drinking water," said Jennifer Walling, executive director of the Illinois Environmental Council. "We do have safe drinking water. We have to do our best together to eliminate the risk."

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