water fountain

Courtesy of Metro Creative.

Elevated levels of lead have been found in certain pipes at Excelsior Middle School (EMS), and officials have shut off the drinking fountains until further notice.

The discovery was made this week when routine tests of the EMS water supply found elevated levels of lead in the school’s water in one of the older buildings, known as the 200 wing. 

While not alarmingly high, the lead levels were elevated enough that the school shut off the drinking fountains in that building. The school has provided bottled drinking water for students in that section. 

Dr. Debbie Gold, Byron Union School District superintendent, said the lead is believed to be coming from the aging pipes in the building in question. She added that the school is working with Environmental Health Specialist Timothy Ellsworth from the county’s Environmental Health Department to rectify the problem and keep students safe. 

“EMS is served by a noncommunity, nontransient water system overseen by the county,” Ellsworth explained. “They have to test for lead and copper once every three years. Because they found elevated levels, moving forward, they will have to test yearly.”

Ellsworth added that the school’s water supply has no detectable levels of lead and copper, meaning the problem is coming from ageing infrastructure in the school. 

“As the water is distributed through the school, the fixtures, which are copper with lead soldering, are leeching out into the distribution system,” said Ellsworth. “Moving forward, the county will assist the district by looking at the data they collect and giving our perspective.”

Dr. Marilyn Underwood, Director of Environmental health, added that the samples taken showed varying levels of lead in different areas. 

“Each sample taken was very different, but we did not see screaming high levels where we expect to see health effects,” Underwood said. “It’s still a concern, but this kind of thing takes long-term exposure before we are going to see health effects.” 

The testing was done within the required three-year window and performed by CERCO Analytical, a company that is certified by the State of California to perform water analysis.

In March of this year, the water in some of the portable classrooms, which are leased to Vista Oaks Charter School, was found to have enough lead to cause the water to be shut off. Currently, the water to the classroom sinks and drinking fountains in that section is still shut off, though toilets and bathroom sinks have water. Underwood explained that students can still wash their hands, but signs have been posted to warn them not to drink the water.  

Moving forward, Gold said the district will continue to work with the county to determine a plan of action.