Elevated lead levels found at some APS schools - Albuquerque Journal

Elevated lead levels found at some APS schools

(Pat Vasquez-Cunningham/For The Journal)

Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal

Varying levels of lead were found in the water at many Albuquerque Public Schools elementaries – levels one local expert says are a “concern but not a crisis,” according to documents recently obtained by the Journal.

The documents, turned over in response to an Inspection of Public Records Act request, reveal that APS submitted samples from 69 schools beginning in April, and began receiving results early last month, according to an APS official. Both sinks and water fountains were tested.

The district said it has been working to address the results since.

The lead testing, done by the New Mexico Department of Health in partnership with the state Environment Department, showed some of the schools’ fountains and sinks had lead levels that were above a threshold established by the federal Environmental Protection Agency, which is 0.015 milligrams per liter.

APS Chief Operations Officer Scott Elder said about 5% of the more than 800 sinks and water fountains tested were above that threshold.

APS sent a note to parents about the testing results Tuesday, a day after the Journal started asking questions about the documents.

Also on Tuesday, APS said it has scheduled a news conference for today on the issue.

Albuquerque Bernalillo County Water Utility Authority spokesman David Morris said the problem is with the fixtures and not the water supply.

“This is an issue with the plumbing in the schools and not the water in the public distribution system,” Morris said, adding that the water in the system before entering the schools was within federal standards. “Our water came back clean,” he said.

Lead is of concern to public health officials because, according to the EPA, lead in the blood of children can result in behavioral and learning problems, lower IQ and slowed growth, among other health risks.

The Journal is reviewing the documents, which consist of hundreds of pages of information detailing lead levels at the hundreds of faucets and water fountains at the schools.

APS spokeswoman Johanna King said parents weren’t notified immediately because of short staffing and the district’s desire to wait for more details.

The state offered the testing program for school districts, and APS opted in. The 69 schools tested were elementaries built before 1990.

Elder said the testing is not just school by school but also faucet by faucet.

“There is no school with every water source is unusable. It’s the occasional fixture,” he said, adding that primarily sinks rather than water fountains were flagged.

In instances of elevated lead levels, he said, the faucets or fixtures were replaced and the locations were retested.

“Within 24 to 48 hours, we replaced that fixture. In the interim, nobody was allowed to utilize it, and still nobody is allowed to until we get a second test back that shows they are safe,” Elder said.

He did not have a cost estimate for the replacements.

Elder said APS is waiting for all of the retest results to come back.

He said that if the water lead levels still come back above 0.015 after the fixture replacements, then APS will analyze the feed lines and replace them as needed. Elder said that at worst, use of a particular sink or fountain would be prohibited.

Bruce Thomson, research professor of civil engineering at the University of New Mexico, has been studying water for more than 40 years.

He emphasized the importance of APS addressing water sources that were above 0.015 milligrams per liter but also stressed that people shouldn’t be alarmed.

“It’s a concern, but not a crisis, in my opinion,” he said after looking at some of the results sent to him by the Journal.

He said the reason water sources above 0.015 need to be addressed is to avoid any future health risks.

“They need to take corrective measures,” he said.

Thomson said he believes children are currently safe but said the goal in addressing these is to minimize chronic exposure and to avoid long-term effects.

“You worry about the chronic exposure,” he said. “One-time exposure at this (level) is not going to cause problems.”

Matt Kadish, a pediatrician with the University of New Mexico Hospital, noted there is no safe level of lead exposure for kids. The EPA also says there is no safe level.

But he said that in general, lead affecting children isn’t a “major issue” in New Mexico, pointing in particular to monitoring done by the Health Department.

“By and large in New Mexico, it’s not a significant issue,” he said.

He added that if parents are concerned they should talk to their doctor and blood tests can be done.


Albuquerque Journal and its reporters are committed to telling the stories of our community.

• Do you have a question you want someone to try to answer for you? Do you have a bright spot you want to share?
   We want to hear from you. Please email yourstory@abqjournal.com

Nativo Sponsored Content

taboola desktop

MORE ARTICLES LIKE THIS

1
COVID tests out there ... somewhere
ABQnews Seeker
Testing shortages are unnerving the public Testing shortages are unnerving the public
2
ABQ officials push tough-on-crime bills
ABQnews Seeker
The mayor of Albuquerque on Friday ... The mayor of Albuquerque on Friday called on the New Mexico Legislature to tackle a series of 'tough-on-crime' bills during its ongoing session, arguing ...
3
Man charged in 2021 ABQ homicide
ABQnews Seeker
A man is charged in the ... A man is charged in the shooting death of another last year at an apartment complex in Southeast Albuquerque. Brandon Holloman, 28, is charged ...
4
Attorneys say MDC could not find inmates for hearings, ...
ABQnews Seeker
On Thursday, one of Ryan Villa's ... On Thursday, one of Ryan Villa's clients was supposed to appear at a pretrial detention hearing — by way of a tablet in a ...
5
New COVID-19 cases set record for third straight day
ABQnews Seeker
New Mexico set a record for ... New Mexico set a record for new reported COVID-19 cases for a third day in a row Friday as the omicron variant continued to ...
6
NM tech firms awarded state matching grants
ABQnews Seeker
The NM SBIR grants are designed ... The NM SBIR grants are designed to support local science and technology companies in achieving their commercialization goals, according to a news release from ...
7
J. Crew bids adieu to Albuquerque
ABQnews Seeker
J. Crew first opened its doors ... J. Crew first opened its doors for New Mexicans in 2012, according to earlier reporting, and specialized in men's and women's fashion.
8
NM Republican Party files lawsuit over new congressional map
ABQnews Seeker
With control of the U.S. House ... With control of the U.S. House at stake in November, the New Mexico Republican Party filed a lawsuit in state court Friday over a ...
9
Albuquerque issues air quality alert for blowing dust
ABQnews Seeker
The City of Albuquerque has issued ... The City of Albuquerque has issued an air quality health alert for Friday night due to dust and high winds.  The city's Environmental Health ...