Columbia Public Schools to test water in district buildings for contaminants

by Roger McKinney, originally posted on June 30, 2016


The water inside many school buildings in Columbia Public Schools never has been tested for lead or other contaminants, and the most recent test in a school was back in 2007.

That’s about to change.

The Columbia Board of Education earlier this month approved an agreement with PDC Laboratories of Peoria, Ill., to test water samples from 2,000 locations in the school district for lead and other metals, bacteria, chemicals and other contaminants. The cost is $41,200.

Michelle Baumstark, CPS spokeswoman, said there have been no questions or concerns raised about water quality in the school district. National coverage about lead contamination in the drinking water of Flint, Mich., prompted the board to take action, she said.

“This will allow us to create a baseline,” Baumstark said. “We’ve never done testing district-wide.”

She said there are not many lead pipes in the district’s buildings, with most of them replaced as schools were remodeled.

Under the agreement, the company provides collection kits to school district personnel, who are trained to gather drinking water samples. PDC Laboratories then will pick up the samples and test them for various contaminants.

Baumstark said the results should be available this fall.

Connie Kacprowicz, spokeswoman for Columbia Water and Light, said the Missouri Department of Natural Resources collects and tests water samples for contaminants at 50 locations around town, including four schools: Lange Middle School, Oakland Middle School, Russell Boulevard Elementary School and Shep-ard Boulevard Elementary School.

She said the action level for lead is 15 micrograms per liter. Russell Boulevard has been tested only once, in 2007, when the lead level was 2.28. Lange Middle School was tested in 1998, 2001 and 2004, with all of the results less than 4 micrograms.

Samples from Oakland Middle School had less than 4 micrograms per liter of lead when they were tested in 1998 and 2001; a sample collected in 2004 had a concentration of 5.16 micrograms per liter.

Water from Shepard Boulevard Elementary School was less than 4 micrograms in 1998 and 2001, but a 2004 test showed a lead concentration of 23.6 micrograms per liter, well above the action level.

“Shepard was the only school we have sampling data on that exceeded the action level that one year,” Kacprowicz said. She said if the sample exceeds the action level, it’s retested to check for anomalies.

A Water and Light employee searched records from 2004 on Thursday morning but was unable to find results of a retesting at the school.

Shepard Boulevard was built in 1968, Kacprowicz said, so lead pipes would not have been used. She said there’s a chance that solder used on the pipes contained lead.

“The school system’s lead testing should give us more insight to every school building,” she said.

Baumstark said she did not know how district officials responded to the spike at Shepard Boulevard in 2004. She noted the results are valid only for the tap, faucet or fountain tested and not for an entire building.

Kacprowicz said the water in Columbia is less acidic than the water Flint, Mich., temporarily used, so it’s less likely the local water would cause lead to leech from pipes.

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