9 Investigates lead at schools: Florida's aging plumbing, loose oversight

Florida does not require schools to test or filter drinking water, even though the state has 1,751 schools built prior to 1987 when lead was still used in solder in copper piping systems.
Lead, once common in everyday life, has been largely removed from items such as gasoline, paint and plumbing.  However, for older schools, pipes and fittings can still contain lead, and currently there is no requirement for schools to test for traces of the element in drinking water.
“There are little bits of lead in everything that we are exposed to, but, what we are really concerned with are large amounts of concentration over a long period of time,” pediatrician Dr. Sally Elias, with Nemours Children's Primary Care, said.  “Lead levels at a low level can first effect a child’s neurological status, for example, behavior and IQ.”


Even though the state does not require testing, many schools have opted to test water, independently. 
Seminole County instituted a program of voluntary supplemental testing in September 2018.  SCPS has 46 campuses with buildings constructed prior to 1986, and so far, no issues have been found.
Volusia County Schools conducts non-mandatory water sampling.  According to the district, “Port Orange Elementary and Ormond Beach Elementary were sampled for lead in water by the VCS Environmental Department. McInnis Elementary is tested by Volusia County’s School outside consultant ESI due to this being a PWS owned by the school district.  All samples were well below EPA action limit.”
Orange County Public Schools has implemented its own program with water at schools tested by an environmental consulting firm.  OCPS said it has not found any issues.
Lake County said it tests water at schools that have potable drinking water treatment plants. Those schools include, Altoona School, Astatula Elementary, Round Lake Elementary, Seminole Springs Elementary and Spring Creek Elementary.  LCPS said other campuses use supplied by municipal water, which is tested at its source.
Flagler County Public Schools said it has “three school campuses which have a building older than 1986, which was when lead in copper and lead pipes were stopped being used.”  The district said it “did independent testing in December 2016, and levels of lead and copper were well below the limits.”
Osceola County Public Schools said it does not test on its own.  The district, in a statement said, “All of our school and ancillary sites are on municipal water sources. DOH (Department of Health) water testing is done if a water main line break or there is a loss of water pressure.”
Brevard County tested its drinking water in 2018 and did not find traces of lead.
Critics said the problem with voluntary testing is that it is voluntary and would only find elevated levels after exposure.
State Sen. Janet Cruz (D-Tampa) filed a bill this year to require filters be applied to drinking water sources at older buildings. The senator at a committee hearing said, “We have done nothing to keep them from drinking tainted water out of our water fountains.”
While the bill passed its first committee by a unanimous vote, it stalled in the Senate and was never heard in the House as some members baled at the cost to install filters.

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