3 Bethlehem, Allentown schools suspend water access after lead report
by Kurt Bresswein, originally published on March 28, 2016
The Bethlehem Area and Allentown school districts said Monday they are cutting off access to drinking water from the plumbing at three schools and testing water quality in response to a news report about lead levels.
WFMZ-TV 69 on Monday published a report with testing performed by a Lehigh University professor of environmental engineering, on drinking water at Bethlehem’s Northeast Middle School and Allentown’s Allen High School and Union Terrace Elementary School.
Profressor Arup SenGupta’s testing showed lead in the schools’ drinking water at three times the federal standard for what is acceptable, according to the report.
The Bethlehem Area School District in a statement said Northeast does not have lead pipes and water fixtures, such as fountains, meet required guidelines.
“The City of Bethlehem routinely tests water quality in the city, and has informed the BASD that all tests reveal lead levels well below federal guidelines,” the district states, noting that school officials were “concerned and surprised” by the WFMZ report.
“It is unclear whether or not WFMZ followed proper sample collection and testing protocols,” the statement says.
After consulting with St. Luke’s University Health Network’s Community Health Department and Bethlehem Mayor Bob Donchez and city staff, the district and city on Monday collected samples and sent them to a state-certified drinking-water laboratory for independent testing.
“Although not required by regulation, out of an abundance of caution, water fountains will be closed and water will not be used for cooking in the Northeast Middle School cafeteria until test results are received,” the statement continues. “Bottled water will be available.”
The district went on to say it is working with the city to test the water quality at all Bethlehem Area schools.
In Allentown, school officials said they are “certainly concerned by a Lehigh University professor’s claim of high lead levels.
“We would have liked to have had such concerning data immediately shared with us so we could investigate, examine the protocols for testing, and remediate the situation, if necessary,” the district said in a statement. “Since neither WFMZ nor the professor were provided access to these two schools, we cannot verify that proper testing protocols have been followed.”
As a result, the district had water testing done at the two schools Monday by certified professionals.
“Until we receive the results of this accurate analysis, both schools will refrain for using the water for consumption,” the statement continues. “The safety and well-being of our students and staff are our top priority.”
The WFMZ report follows a 2014 Pennsylvania Department of Health study that found 17 cities exceeded the statewide rate of 9.37 percent for children with dangerously elevated blood lead levels. Among them, Allentown topped the list with 23.11 percent of children tested showing elevated blood-lead levels; Easton was sixth with 15.81 percent tested above the threshold and Bethlehem, seventh with 14.32 percent, state data show.