WASHINGTON COUNTY, Tenn. (WJHL) – Multiple Washington County, Tennessee schools recently tested positive for dangerous levels of lead in some water sources.
Washington County Director of Schools Bill Flanary said a new state law, which went into effect January 2019, mandated all school systems in Tennessee to test for lead. He said schools have to do so before January 2021.
“We have now tested every source that we’re supposed to, we’ve identified all of our problems. We are now in the process of fixing every problem,” said Flanary.
Flanary said Washington County didn’t test for lead before this year because it wasn’t required.
After the most recent round of testing, he said seven water sources in six cafeteria kitchens came back with lead levels higher than those considered acceptable by the state and the Environmental Protection Agency.
Josh Ledford, whose daughter goes to Jonesborough Middle School, said he was angry when he got the news.
“It’s not a simple water fountain off to the side. This is the water source for the cafeteria at her school. Any meals that are prepared in that school, that’s the kitchen they have to use,” Ledford said.
Flanary said they’re having the spigots and hose beds replaced. He said they also plan to retest the water before it’s used to prepare meals.
“If we have to bring in bottled water, we’ll do it,” he said.
The corrective action comes after five water fountains at four other Washington County schools also tested positive for elevated lead levels in April.
Flanary said those fountains have been shut off and will not be replaced.
“So we no longer have any source of water in any school where a child can walk up and get a drink of water or fill a container of water that is contaminated with lead,” he said.
Some parents are concerned the damage has already been done.
Washington County Health Department Director Christen Minnick said, “What we would be concerned about if a child is exposed to lead is delayed growth, so their weight and their height may be delayed. Future, long term issues would be potential learning disabilities, trouble concentrating and then, in the most severe cases, it would be something like brain or nerve damage.”
Minnick said the extent of these symptoms depends on exposure.
“So if you think about a water fountain, a child is going to take a quick drink. It would not be the same amount as somebody who was exposed to it on a consistent daily basis in large amounts,” said Minnick.
Minnick said concerned parents can make an appointment at the health department to test their child’s blood-lead levels.