District-wide Lead Testing

Testing for Lead in Water in our Schools

To protect the health of our students and staff, Hamilton County Schools has been conducting sampling, testing, and reporting for lead in drinking water across all schools in the district. In 2020, we began testing water outlets at our schools for lead as part of a new regulation in Tennessee for schools built prior to 1998. During Summer 2020, samples were collected from over 2,000 different water outlets at 53 schools. During Summer 2021, over 1,000 additional samples were collected as part of a voluntary effort at schools built in 1998 or later. We are currently working to retest all schools built prior to 1998 that were originally tested in 2020 (now 52 schools as Harrison Elementary was reestablished in a new building in 2021). Samples from 24 schools were collected over spring break, and the remaining pre-1998 schools will be sampled during the summer.

Why Test?

Lead typically enters drinking water due to the wearing away of piping, faucets, fixtures, and other plumbing materials. Because lead is tasteless, odorless, and colorless in drinking water, testing is a way to learn if lead is present. It is important to sample each faucet or water fountain that is used for drinking or food prep because test results can vary between outlets and various water chemistry changes can change levels over time. HCS has been working with a contractor to utilize results to identify and remediate sources of lead.

Under Tennessee Code Ann. 49-2-133, local boards of education are required to periodically test for lead in drinking water sources. If a lead level test exceeds twenty parts per billion (20 ppb) the school shall immediately remove the drinking water source from service. HCS has selected a stricter standard of 15 ppb to immediately remove the drinking water source from service until corrective action can be taken. Additionally, HCS has sampled all schools, even though only buildings built prior to 1998 are required.

Once additional investigation into the source of lead at an outlet, corrective action, and retesting are complete, the water sources may be reopened. HCS will continue to provide updates and share all testing data along the way.

Some best practices to keep lead levels low at schools and at home include:
  • “Flushing” water, when possible, to allow drinking water that has been stagnant to move through the pipes.
  • Using cold water for drinking and cooking. Hot water may increase the amount of lead transferred from the pipes or faucet, and boiling water does not remove lead.
  • Discouraging drinking water from fixtures not intended for potable use (e.g.. lab faucets, hoses, spigots, hand washing sinks). Hand washing is not a concern for lead exposure because skin does not absorb lead in water.



Understanding Results

We are committed to keeping you informed every step of the way as we test and improve the water quality in our schools. Lead test results from the past three years can be viewed below. The EPA action level is 15 ppb. State of TN school lead testing requires sources over 20 ppb to be removed from service until corrective action can be taken. HCDE is remediating any source over 15 ppb. All sources over 15 ppb have been immediately removed from service. The corrective action columns show a brief description of actions taken, as needed. Results that are below the laboratory detection limit, indicated with a less than sign, mean that the laboratory was not able to detect lead in the sample. The source ID is a unique identifier for the drinking water outlet, associated with information collected about location and outlet type.

How are Samples Collected?

Samples are collected following a standard operating procedure incorporating the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)’s Training, Testing, and Taking Action (3Ts) program and the requirements of the state legislation. Water must be standing in plumbing overnight before samples are collected. A “first draw” sample of water that has been standing in plumbing overnight will be collected in laboratory supplied sample bottles. Each sample is assigned a unique number and each source will be tagged with a sticker displaying the unique number. The sample is then supplied to a separate qualified laboratory for conducting chemical analyses.

Link to view Results: https://bit.ly/HCDELeadResults

All questions can be emailed to Tim Harper.