Is there lead in the water at your kid's school? Testing is underway to find out

Diane Wilson Image
Wednesday, January 17, 2024
NC schools begin to test for lead in water
Clean Classroom For Carolina Kids: Schools in North Carolina have access to new funding that could help them effectively test water for lead

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- Is there lead and asbestos at your kids' school? In North Carolina, testing for lead in school water used to be voluntary, but now a law has made that testing mandatory.

The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Public Instruction have partnered with RTI International to conduct the testing.

"Our goal is to identify and eliminate exposure to lead and asbestos hazards where kids learn and play across North Carolina," Jennifer Hoponick Redmon with RTI said. The program is called Clean Classroom For Carolina Kids.

As part of the program, public schools, including charter schools and daycares sign up for free.

"We train school administrators on how to enroll, how to collect water samples, and how to ship water samples," Redmon added.

Troubleshooter Diane Wilson was invited to see how schools can collect water samples for lead testing. At Maureen Joy Charter School in Durham, Samantha Amaral, senior director of operations HR and finance said about the testing, "This was a no-brainer for us to make sure that we could get it done. We become more of a proactive school than a reactionary school. So for us, I think, yes, it's a little nerve-wracking, but it's something that needs to happen. The safety of our school and our students is our main priority."

Raymond Melvin the Director of Maintenance at the school went through the training for the Clean Classrooms for Carolina Kids program.

"First, they introduce you to what it is they're going to be testing for. Then they walk you through the process of how to test for these things, and then they give you added information on how to get that information back from them." Our cameras rolled as he tested each water source at the school. "The testing process was very easy, and that was a good thing because it only took me maybe 30, 40 minutes to get it done," Melvin said.

The samples are then sent to RTI for testing. Redmon adds, "We analyze them in our lab. Then we give them the results directly along with required mitigation activities if there's lead above the state action level." Redmon confirms their testing has found some drinking sources in schools above the state action level of ten parts per billion, which the program helps mitigate. "We will pay for an onsite plumber to come and replace fixtures and also provide lead-certified filters," she said.

When it comes to lead-based paint and asbestos in schools, Redmon said, "The school will give us documentation for the age of their building, as well as any documents they have from prior testing. We will review that and determine whether there needs to be an onsite visit, and if there is an onsite visit, we have somebody that's accredited or certified licensed to go to the facility, and they take samples as needed as well."

She said those assessments are free, and if remediation is required, there is funding for that also.

"For lead-based paint and asbestos you can apply for reimbursement with a state fund up to two-thirds of the costs for schools, child care centers, and the child care portion of a school it's covered in full," Redmon said.

The funding for this program comes from the American Rescue Plan Act funds. The hope is that more schools enroll in the program within the next few months.

"Everyone's supposed to have this done by April. So what we would like is for all facilities to enroll by May 1st of this year, which is when the original state requirements deadline is and the funding continues through November 30th, 2026. We are picking up school enrollment now and we've been really picking up over the last month, and we would really like schools to continue knowing that this is a program that they should sign up for and that we really are available to help schools and facilitate this to happen before school's out for summer," Redmon said.

As for the test results for the water testing, those are all posted online here once testing is complete, so you can see if your school or daycare has gone through the testing yet. If you are a school that would like to sign up for the free program you can do that here.

As of Tuesday, according to RTI, the Clean Classrooms for Carolina Kids program had 106 public schools complete the lead-in-water enrollment survey to start the process. Of the 106, 52 schools have received their results back, 26 had at least one tap with lead > 1 parts per billion (ppb) and 7 schools had at least one tap at or above the state action level of 10 ppb. Those seven schools will be required to stop the use of those taps for drinking and cooking until mitigation actions are completed.