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To keep students safe from environmental hazards, the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality is urging school districts to test water coming out of drinking fountains and taps for lead.
Agency Director, Steve Owens said that the department has sent a 28-page manual on how to test for lead, which can harm children's nervous systems, and what to do if lead is found, to all public school district superintendents in Arizona and has posted the guide on its website, www. azdeq.gov, according to a report in the Arizona Daily Star.
"We haven't identified any significant problems in any schools that are out there, but that's not to say there aren't problems we don't know about," Owens said.
According to Owens, water is regularly tested by suppliers as it goes into schools, but problems with lead leaching into the water system often happen in a school's plumbing, especially after a building has been dormant over a weekend or during a holiday break or summer vacation.
"We put the guidelines out as an abundance of caution, just so everyone can know if there's an issue out there, and if there's not, they know the comfort of that," he said. "But if there is, the school can deal with it."
Officials said that the Tucson Unified School District spot-checks its schools' water when the buildings undergo construction or renovation, or when inspectors are called out for other reasons.
When a new building is completed or after renovations are done, the plumbing is flushed, and the water coming out of taps and drinking fountains is tested for lead and other problems, said Marcus Jones, district director of engineering and planning.
The district hasn't detected any problems with lead in the water for at least five years, said Lauren Eib, director of TUSD risk management.
"A lot of what the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality recommends, I would suspect, is a lot of what the district has been doing for years," she said.
TUSD did have lead problems in the early 1990s when the district built Johnson Elementary School on the West Side, Jones said.
"Typically the only problems we've had with lead in pipes is with new construction," Jones said. Some of the new plumbing fittings were smooth and shiny on the outside, but the inside was rough, and tiny metal particles got swept into the water, he said.
"The old pipes get full of gunk, and that keeps the lead from coming out."