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Elevated lead found in water at 12 Maui County schools

The Maui News

Elevated concentrations of lead were found in 4 percent of faucets and drinking fountains sampled at public schools statewide, including 12 schools in Maui County, according to the state.

During testing of 58 schools and 70 child care facilities in Maui, Hawaii and Kauai counties, 93 of the 2,232 sampled taps at schools show elevated concentrations of lead above the “action level” of 15 parts per billion, while four of the 100 sampled taps at child care facilities had results above that level.

Water from those sources is no longer being used while ongoing monitoring and testing is conducted, according to the state departments of Education, Health and Human Services.

“The schools and child care facilities were notified immediately upon the receipt of the results and those water sources are no longer in use,” Michael Miyahira, acting branch chief of DOH’s Safe Drinking Water Branch, said in a news release Thursday. “We would like to assure the community that taps that had elevated levels of lead will not be used for drinking or food preparation until the problem is fixed.”

The departments launched the first phase of a joint project in February to test drinking water sources at selected schools and child care facilities for the presence of lead. Testing on Oahu began in mid-July, and results will be available on a rolling basis. The current project will test 106 DOE elementary schools and 123 DHS-licensed child care facilities, and the state has applied for additional funding from the Environmental Protection Agency to test the remaining 73 elementary and 30 public charter schools in Phase 2 of the project, which is expected to begin next summer.

Lead levels of 15 parts per billion or more were found in: two faucets or fountains at Haiku Elementary, seven at Hana High & Elementary, four at Kahului Elementary, one at Kaunakakai Elementary, four at Kihei Elementary, two at Kilohana Elementary, four at Lanai High & Elementary, four at Lihikai Elementary, two at Makawao Elementary, one at Paia Elementary, three at Pukalani Elementary and three at Wailuku Elementary.

Facilities with lead concentrations that are below 15 parts per billion have also been notified and have been provided strategies to minimize exposure such as daily flushing of the water, using certified lead-free filters or turning the tap into a hand-wash-only station.

Initial results indicate that the fixtures or faucets, are the problem in most cases, but follow-up testing determine if the problem is the individual fixture or the plumbing behind the wall.

“It is important to note that any positive results do not mean there is lead in the water being provided to the school or child care facility from the public water supply departments,” Miyahira said. “Historically, our regulated water systems in Hawaii have not had lead contamination and our initial findings continue to support this.”

The DOE is creating a plan for replacement of affected fixtures or evaluation of the plumbing of schools where results showed elevated levels of lead.

The majority of childhood lead exposures in Hawaii happen in the home, usually from deteriorated lead-based paint, the smelting of lead fishing sinkers or lead-contaminated soil, according to the departments. However, the departments acknowledged that it is possible that repeated drinking of water containing lead can contribute to a child’s lead exposure.

Parents who are concerned about lead exposure in their child from any source should talk to their child’s doctor about lead testing. For more information on childhood lead exposure, visit lead.hawaii.gov.

For more information about the project and full results by school or facility, visit health.hawaii.gov/WIIN.

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