The city of Chicago is expanding water testing after a pilot program revealed elevated lead levels at a South Side elementary school.
Samples taken from three of the water fountains at Tanner Elementary in Greater Grand Crossing showed lead levels above the Environmental Protection Agency’s action level; one fountain’s sample was more than seven times the federal limit and another was three times above the federal limit.
As a result, CPS CEO Forrest Claypool said Friday afternoon that testing will be expanded to all schools in the district. He added that CPS was starting “more aggressive flushing” of water pipes, after periods of non-use, saying they would prioritize schools with pre-K programs. Younger children are more susceptible to the effects of lead, which include behavior and cognitive problems.
Asked whether parents should be concerned if their child’s school hasn’t been tested yet, City Health Commissioner Dr. Julie Morita said, “I have a child who attends a Chicago Public School. He drinks out of the water fountain and he will continue to drink out of the water fountain.”
The city tested 28 schools for its pilot and four other schools chose to do the testing on their own. Out of those 32 schools, CPS said seven had detectable levels of lead in their water. According to CPS data, Tanner was the only school to test above the EPA’s action level of 15 parts per billion. But two of its fountains registered lead levels of 114 and 47 ppb.
CPS officials said that they only tested the first liter of water out of the fountains and taps. That liter can indicate if lead is coming from the fountain fixtures. But EPA water experts advising officials in Flint, Michigan, suggest taking at least one additional sample—in what’s called sequential sampling—to determine if lead could be coming from plumbing in the walls and beyond.
CPS’s Chief of Capital Improvement Mary DeRuntz said that future tests done in district schools will use the sequential sampling method.
Here are the results for all schools tested: