The Indiana School for the Deaf is working with the Indiana State Department of Health (ISDH) and Indiana Department of Environmental Management (IDEM) after testing found some elevated lead levels in the drinking water in one the buildings on campus. Information is provided in the letter to ISD parents and frequently asked questions.
How did the school learn it had elevated lead levels in its water?
ISD decided to test its water out of an abundance of caution. The physical plant manager collected samples from all buildings on the ISD campus and sent them to a private laboratory, which tested them on Jan. 28 and Feb. 3. After receiving results that showed elevated lead levels in both tests, the plant manager collected additional samples and sent them to the ISDH laboratory, which also identified elevated lead levels. ISDH took additional samples on Feb. 25, 2016. Those results are pending.
Where were elevated lead levels found?
All sites sampled in the first three rounds of testing were below the Environmental Protection Agency’s action level of 15 parts per billion except for one bathroom tap in Alumni Hall, which serves middle and high school students but does not have a cafeteria or dormitory, on Jan. 28 and one tap and one water fountain in Alumni Hall on Feb. 3. Testing done by ISDH on Feb. 19 identified three water fountains in Alumni Hall with elevated lead levels.
What is the school doing to keep my child safe?
ISD has shut off water to affected fountains and is preparing to replace them. It is currently taking an inventory of all water fountains on campus to identify those installed before 1987 and will pursue appropriate actions for those, which could include installing filters or replacing them, regardless of whether the water from them exceeds acceptable levels. ISD is also consulting with ISDH and IDEM on additional measures to ensure that all drinking water at the school remains below the EPA’s threshold.
Is it safe to use the water that doesn’t come from the affected sites?
Yes. The affected sites have been taken out of service. Lead is not absorbed through the skin, so swimming, showering and washing hands are safe.
How did the lead get in the water?
Lead and copper can enter drinking water, such as that coming from fountains or taps, due to the corrosion of lead containing distribution pipes and other plumbing materials, which causes lead to leach into the water.
Is my child safe?
It is extremely unlikely that anyone will have an excessive lead level as a result of drinking the water at the school. Only 10 percent to 20 percent of lead exposure comes from water. Most studies show that exposure to lead-contaminated water alone would not be likely to elevate blood lead levels in most adults, even exposure to water with a lead content close to the EPA action level for lead of 15 parts per billion (ppb).
How can lead affect people?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has not identified any safe level of lead in blood but has set 5 micrograms per deciliter as the level at which public health actions be initiated. Lead exposure can affect nearly every system in the body, and young children are most vulnerable. According to the CDC, the health effects of lead exposure can include:
- Damage to the brain and nervous system
- Slowed growth and development
- Learning and behavioral troubles
- Hearing and speech problems
Lead exposure can lead to a lower IQ, decreased ability to pay attention and underperformance at school. At higher levels of lead, lead poisoning can even lead to a coma and death. Every child is impacted differently by lead, and symptoms can vary by the level of lead in the blood. Some of the more noticeable signs of lead poisoning include: vomiting, constipation, stomach aches, weakness, wrist or foot drop, joint and muscle pain, anemia and fatigue.
How are children exposed to lead?
Lead-based paint and lead-contaminated dust are the most hazardous sources of lead for U.S. children. Lead-based paints were banned for use in housing in 1978. All houses built before 1978 are likely to contain some lead-based paint. Only about 20 percent of lead poisoning cases are linked to lead in water. Children are also exposed to lead through gasoline, solder, consumer products such as toys and jewelry, and through air, food, water and soil.
How common is lead poisoning?
Approximately 500,000 U.S. children ages 1-5 have blood lead levels above 5 micrograms per deciliter.
Are some people more susceptible to the effects of lead than others?
Children under the age of 7 are at greatest risk because they are growing so rapidly and because they tend to put their hands or other potentially contaminated objects into their mouths. Infants who drink formula prepared with lead-contaminated water may be at a higher risk because of the large volume of water they consume relative to their body size. Pregnant women and those who are breastfeeding should also take steps to prevent lead exposure.
How do I know if my child has been affected by lead?
Lead exposure often has no obvious symptoms and frequently goes unrecognized. A health care provider can use a blood test to measure the level of lead in a child’s blood.
What can I do if my child’s blood lead level is higher than the recommended levels?
The most important thing to do is to remove the source of exposure. When a child’s blood lead level tests above the reference levels of 5 micrograms per deciliter, ISDH works with the local health department to conduct an environmental assessment of the home to identify the source of exposure and remove it. Chelation therapy is considered when a child is found with a test result of 45 micrograms per deciliter of lead in blood.