Education

CMS has now tested 3,000 water fixtures in 89 schools for lead. Here’s the tally.

CMS Superintendent announces second round of water testing for lead

After lead was found in the water at CMS schools, Superintendent Clayton Wilcox says they'll do a round of testing and will do a better job at informing the community.
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After lead was found in the water at CMS schools, Superintendent Clayton Wilcox says they'll do a round of testing and will do a better job at informing the community.

Results from Myers Park and Olympic high schools have brought a close to the second round of testing to identify drinking fountains and other school water sources leaching unsafe levels of lead, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools said Friday.

Combined with the first round, done in fall 2017, CMS has now tested fixtures at 89 of its oldest schools and found unsafe levels in 41 of them. Those fixtures have been removed, blocked off or filtered as soon as high lead levels were detected, officials say.

The 2017 testing, which covered 58 elementary and K-8 schools, drew criticism because CMS told parents about the testing but did not release results until reporters inquired months late. The second time around, CMS posted results and sent letters to families in English and Spanish as soon as they got the reports

Out of 31 schools tested this fall, 17 had no fixtures with unsafe readings, with Olympic High School’s report on Friday rounding out that tally.

Fourteen had one or more fixture that logged a reading above the state’s action level of 15 parts per billion. At Myers Park High, consultants tested 95 fixtures and found high lead levels in an auditorium drinking fountain and a concession-stand sink.

By far the highest lead level found came from a drinking fountain in Garinger High School’s cafeteria. It had almost 44 times the safe level.

The biggest question — was anyone harmed? — is hard to answer.

Lead is toxic, especially for young children and pregnant women. And while officials say there’s no safe level for lead, it’s hard to say whether students or employees drank often enough from the fixtures in question to cause problems.

Two independent experts told the Observer in August that the risk seemed low. And the Mecklenburg Health Department, which investigates when doctors find elevated lead levels in local children, said all cases they’ve checked have traced back to consumer products (such as spices and incense) or lead-based paint.

The district checked more than 3,000 fixtures at the 89 schools, and the overwhelming majority tested within safe levels. In some cases, the fixtures that tested high were seldom or never used anymore, though they may have been in past years.

CMS officials have bristled at activists’ comparison to Flint, Mich., where the city water supply was contaminated. There’s no problem with the city of Charlotte water coming in to CMS schools. Instead, the question is whether fixtures with lead solder or brass fittings are leaching lead into the water that passes through. Even those that have registered high levels when tested after several hours sitting idle generally — but not always — log safe levels after water has run through them, the results show.

CMS and the federal Environmental Protection Agency recommend that anyone with concerns about exposure get a blood test from their doctor or the health department.

The two rounds of testing have covered just over half the district’s 175 schools. Those not tested yet are generally schools built well after Congress banned lead in water pipes, fixtures and solder in 1986.

For details, go to the CMS website, www.cms.k12.nc.us, and click “CMS Water Quality Program” under Spotlight. The first round of reports are at the bottom of that page; the second can be found at the “Water Testing Round 2” link from that page.

CMS has also tested four CMS office buildings. One had no high readings, two did and results are not back yet for the Education Center where Wilcox and his top staff work.

Schools with high levels

Albemarle Road Elementary, Ashley Park PreK-8, Bain Elementary (old campus), Berryhill Elementary, Bruns Academy, Cotswold Elementary, Devonshire Elementary, Dilworth Elementary (Latta and Sedgefield campuses), East Meck High, First Ward Creative Arts, Garinger High, Harding High, Hickory Grove Elementary, Hidden Valley Elementary, Irwin Academic Center, J.T. Williams Montessori, Kennedy Middle, LIFT Academy, Mallard Creek Elementary, McKee Road Elementary, Montclaire Elementary, Myers Park High, Northeast Middle, Northwest School of the Arts, Oaklawn Language Academy, Olde Providence Elementary, Paw Creek Elementary, Performance Learning Center, Providence High, Randolph Middle, Reedy Creek Elementary, South Meck High, Starmount Elementary, Steele Creek Elementary, Trillium Springs Montessori, University Park Creative Arts, Vaughan Academy of Technology, West Charlotte High, Westerly Hills Academy, Winterfield Elementary.

Schools with no problems

Allenbrook Elementary, Albemarle Road Middle, Alexander Graham Middle, Beverly Woods Elementary, Billingsville Elementary, Briarwood Elementary, Carmel Middle, Chantilly Montessori, Clear Creek Elementary, Cochrane Collegiate Academy, Collinswood Language Academy, Cornelius Elementary, Coulwood STEM, Eastover Elementary, Eastway Middle, Elizabeth Traditional Elementary, Gunn Elementary, Hawthorne Academy, Huntersville Elementary, Huntingtowne Farms Elementary, Independence High, Lansdowne Elementary, Marie G. Davis Academy, Matthews Elementary, McAlpine Elementary, Myers Park Traditional Elementary, North Meck High, Oakdale Elementary, Oakhurst STEAM Academy, Olympic High, Park Road Montessori, Piedmont Middle, Piney Grove Elementary, Quail Hollow Middle, Rama Road Elementary, Ranson Middle, Reid Park Academy (Amay James building), Sedgefield Middle, Selwyn Elementary, Shamrock Gardens Elementary, Sharon Elementary, Thomasboro Academy, Tuckaseegee Elementary, Turning Point Academy (old Pawtuckett school), Villa Heights Elementary, West Meck High, Wilson STEM Academy, Windsor Park Elementary.

Ann Doss Helms has covered education for the Observer since 2002, long enough to watch a generation of kids go from preK to college. She is a repeat winner of the North Carolina Press Association’s education reporting award.
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