Madison School District discovers lead in drinking fountains

District voluntarily did testing on water

The Madison School District voluntarily tested the water in drinking fountains of schools last month and discovered higher-than-acceptable levels of lead in 14 of the 156 fixtures.

“When we find one that is a little high, we shut them off and then we will have our in-district trade staff start by replacing the fixture,” said Chad Wiese, director of building and technical services for the district.

The district started the process of testing the drinking fountains in all Madison schools Feb. 23.

Samples were collected early that morning after the fountains had not been used for at least eight hours. Lead levels will test higher on fountains in which the water has been sitting in the pipes for several hours.

The EPA acceptable standard for lead in water is 15 parts per billion.

At Lapham Elementary School, which was built nearly 90 years ago, three fountains tested above the 15 ppb. One fountain, identified as “corridor 141” had a test result of 69.7.

“The majority of the ones that are coming back just slightly elevated are coming from old water bubblers that are the older porcelain original fixture,” Wiese said.

While lead exposure is dangerous for children, a pediatrician and leading expert on lead exposure in children has advice for the parents of students at the affected schools.

“This is just a fraction of a child’s daily intake, and what I want parents to do is take a deep breath and say, ‘OK, this is an issue. We need to do something about it and kudos to the Madison school system for looking at this,'” said Dr. Elizabeth Neary, a member of the Wisconsin Environmental Health Network.

Neary believes the small amounts of water a student consumes at a school drinking fountain would have a negligible impact.

“That sip of water in the spectrum of how much a child drinks daily is really only a small fraction,” Neary said.

The district plans to complete the testing on all drinking fountains in schools within a month.

“During the school day, we’re responsible for 25,000 learners and if there is anything we can do to ensure their environment is as safe as possible, we’re going to do it,” Wiese said.