Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal
Analyses from some of Albuquerque Public Schools’ middle and high schools found that most of the water fixtures tested for lead were below levels deemed concerning by the federal Environmental Protection Agency. Roughly 3% of the over 200 samples came back with higher lead levels – above 0.015 milligrams per liter, which is the threshold set by the EPA.
According to APS, water sources at 22 middle schools built before 1990 were tested.
The Journal looked through hundreds of sample documents, obtained through a public records request, and found that the majority tested below the 0.015 milligrams per liter threshold.
However, water sources at John Adams and McKinley middle schools showed actionable results well above this threshold.
One result from McKinley’s staff lounge showed lead levels at 0.064 milligrams per liter and another in the nurse’s office had a similar result at 0.063 milligrams per liter. Several others from this middle school were also above the threshold.
A test from John Adam’s “lounge” showed lead levels at 0.021 milligrams per liter.
APS officials said corrective action was taken, such as replacing fixtures, and retesting showed safer levels.
The water fountain in the teacher’s lounge at John Adams was eliminated “due to its location and infrequent use,” according to the district.
Water sources at New Futures High School – an alternative school for pregnant and parenting students – and the early childhood program at Eldorado High School were also tested.
According to results, water fixtures at these sites tested below the EPA threshold.
Johanna King, APS spokeswoman, said APS opted into the testing at the middle and high schools, which was done in the fall.
Lead is of concern to public health officials because, according to the EPA, lead in children’s blood can result in behavioral and learning problems, lower IQ and slowed growth, among other health risks.
Albuquerque Bernalillo County Water Utility Authority officials have said the lead issues stem from plumbing in the schools and not the public water system, which the agency says meets federal standards.
APS initially tested 69 elementary schools and discovered that 23 schools had water samples above the threshold.
According to a nationwide analysis, New Mexico earned an F for how the state overall is tackling lead levels in school water sources.
The Lead in School Water Project graded each state, taking into account local policies, number of schools tested and accessibility of data.
The report was done by SimpleWater, owner and operator of a residential water testing service. It says that the state has not adopted legislation to require uniform testing or remediation measures.
“New Mexico appears to have not made any progress toward passing legislation with regards to lead in schools,” the report states.
However, there are federal regulations for the testing and monitoring of public water systems.
Sen. Gerald Ortiz y Pino, D-Albuquerque, who also chairs the Legislative Health and Human Services Committee, said a potential next step would be to research the extent of the issue in the state and discuss whether statute changes are needed.
“We could at least take a look at the possibility of studying that issue, maybe with a task force or a small amount of money for research,” he said.
Water fixtures in schools, including those in APS, have been tested through the Lead Assistance Project, a state program that gets federal funding.
From August 2018 through October 2019, 147 schools and daycare centers in the state have been tested through the program, according to Maddy Hayden, a spokeswoman for the New Mexico Environment Department.
However, the Lead Assistance Project in the state was criticized by the SimpleWater Report that says cumulative testing results aren’t easily accessible.
Hayden said testing results will be made public in the future.
“NMED and the New Mexico Department of Health are taking a serious look at the findings of this project. Our voluntary Lead Assistance Program is an important resource for New Mexico schools in ensuring children’s health and we are always looking at ways to make it more effective. Starting in spring 2020, the program will begin using a nationally available online platform to manage data collected through the program. Testing results will also be made publicly available,” she wrote in an email to the Journal.
APS also published results on its website after a Journal investigation revealed findings at elementary schools.