A Project for Better Journalism chapter

Partnership with Denver Water fixes district lead water problem

By now, we have all hopefully noticed the pronounced signs in the bathrooms and sinks reading HAND WASH ONLY. However, there has been limited information provided to students regarding the meaning of these alarming signs. For this reason, we decided to interview the Diane Leiker, LPS Director of Communications, and Terry Davis, Director of Operations Maintenance and Construction, to get the inside scoop.

Within this past year, LPS decided to test the water fixtures for lead content. To implement this process, LPS worked closely with Denver Water, Colorado’s oldest and largest water utility.

“This was a voluntary process that the district chose to go through with Denver Water. It’s very common amongst school districts to do this every so often to have water tested for lead content. It has been a process that has been in the works for a while, several months, but partnered with Denver Water, they did all the testing for free which is great because that is just not something we have budget for necessarily, so thank to Denver Water for doing that.”

Back in October of 2017, the directors and property management in LPS began testing for lead in the water throughout the district, something that has not been done since the late 90s.

“We did majority of our testing in September, October, November and then we got all the results back and made the decision in November to go ahead and move forward with changing some of the devices and the ones that directly affect you when it comes to drinking. We tested everything, every device was tested throughout the district, including your hand sinks, including the spigots outside in buckets and for shrubs, all that stuff has been tested,” said Davis.

What they were looking for was devices that contained more than 20 parts per billion of lead. If this was found, the device was replaced and rechecked.

“In November we got the results back and with those results decided that we would go ahead over winter break and replace number one if there was one that was grossly over we shut it down immediately. The rest of them that were over the 20 parts per billion we actually ordered the fixtures and replaced them over winter break and then immediately retested them again afterwards to ensure because there is that question whether it is in the pipes or it it in the fixture. Most of them were in the fixture. If the fixture tests good after we replaced it, problem’s taken care of. If it’s not, then we would have to shut it down and start looking back. We didn’t find any that we had to shut down to keep off,” said Davis.

Davis ensures that, as of after winter break, anything that was reported to have lead content above the desired 20 parts were billion were removed and restored.

“Now, all those that came out high, above that 20 parts per billion, have been replaced and tested below the 20 parts per billion,” said Davis.

Not only has every fixture now reached the goal of under 20 parts per billion, but LPS is aiming to take it one step further by reducing the content to 10 parts per billion.

“The EPA really recommends 20 parts per billion to be the threshold there. In LPS, we decided to take stricture standards. We want our testing to be even lower than that. We’re going to 10 and so, of course, anything that tested over 20, like a drinking fountain or bottle filler that you are using to drink water from, those of course were fixed or replaced over winter break. As the district can, then they will start looking at all of those drinking fountains and bottle fillers that are testing between the 10-20 and try to get those repaired, replaced as time allows and as budget allows,” said Leiker.

Even though the signs are still up and the fixtures do contain small amounts of lead, Davis and Leiker assure there have been no reports of health risks due to the lead. This lack of risk is furthered by the district’s attempt to have the students be informed about using the water or not, as seen through the signs throughout the school.

“There is no risk of washing your hands. Now I will tell you we did take it one step further in the bathrooms. If you guys have noticed in your restrooms there are signs above every sink. We were discussing that if one of them was high and two others weren’t, we thought there would be a lot of confusion if there weren’t signs till above them all. The other thing is it is really not sanitary to go in and fill your coffee cups up, your water bottles up from a restroom that is a community restroom where everybody is using the restroom and washing their hands, so we felt it was in our best interest as a district for you guys to ensure that we have enough drinking fountains and pot fillers in the school, so we thought it would be best to just have signs saying hand wash only,” said Davis.

Emphasizing this was a voluntary process, Leiker and Davis are content with the work that has been accomplished over break and the partnership with Denver Water. They are hoping that, sometime in the future, the lead content will eventually be brought down to 0, but until they have the budget and time, nothing more can be done. However, there have been no signs of health risks with the amount that is currently in the water, so they ensure that students should not worry.