TACOMA, Wash. -- Tacoma school officials believe the drinking water at three elementary schools could be turned back on by Tuesday.
Officials said new water quality tests now show much lower levels of lead than before.
The superintendent of Tacoma Public Schools said Monday that new water quality tests done at Manitou Park, Larchmont and Reed elementary schools show big improvement. The district believes the water at those schools is now safe for drinking because they are testing well below the federal limits for lead.
“Test results should give people a confident understanding in the water that they’re drinking,” said district spokesperson Dan Voelpel.
District officials believe the lead toxicity numbers released last month were so high because they didn’t complete the two-step process to get accurate levels.
The first step is to test a fixture where the water has been stagnant for several hours – any lead found there is suppose to be a worst-case scenario. The second part of the test is to flush the fixture with water – creating a more real-life scenario and then take new samples for testing.
After new water quality test results came back showing much lower levels, the district will now shift its focus from the water source to individual fixtures.
“What we’re now looking for are fixture by fixture, looking at the specific locations inside, every place somebody could get water and consume it in our facility,” said district Chief Operating Officer Steve Murakami.
The problems began when district officials discovered more than a dozen water quality tests where nobody looked at the results for nearly a year. The 2015 tests from 13 elementary schools showed higher than federally allowable levels.
The district immediately began providing kids and teachers with bottled water and closed many drinking fountains. Thirteen problem water fixtures have already been replaced in several buildings; more could be replaced after more test results come back.
As for why nobody looked at the tests results back in 2015, officials said that is still under investigation. So far, one employee has been placed on administrative leave.
The district superintendent said they are working to make sure something like this doesn’t happen again.
“We’re operating a protocol where every 100% of our schools will be tested in 30 days,” said Carla Santorno. “Then we’re going to have a cycle where we get them tested every three years.”
But these water quality tests aren’t cheap; it costs the district about $1,500 to sample each campus. The district plans to have all of its buildings tested within a month.