Students at Soldotna elementary school to be tested for led exposure

Posted: Tuesday, October 24, 2000

KENAI (AP) -- Students at Kalifornsky Beach Elementary School will be tested for lead poisoning, with the state picking up the cost of the testing.

The school's tap water failed tests in April. But parents were not notified of the problem until late September and the water remained available to children until then. The school went on bottled water in late September.

At a meeting late last week, school district officials and state health and environmental officials offered assurances that the students were safe, despite the test results.

But many of the parents who attended the meeting expressed skepticism.

As a result, state officials are offering free lead exposure tests to students currently at the school.

District officials say new equipment installed at the school this fall should correct the problem. However, the school will remain on bottled water until the water has tested clean multiple times.

Water samples taken April 15 in the school showed lead levels above the Environmental Protection Agency Action Level in eight of 10 sample sites. One reading, from a classroom sink, was about 500 times the threshold of 0.015 milligrams per liter.

This fall, borough maintenance workers installed new water treatment equipment. It injects sodium silicate into the plumbing to reduce acidity and coat the insides of pipes to prevent corrosion. The school will remain on bottled water until the water has tested clean multiple times.

Dr. Michael Beller of the state's Division of Public Health told the meeting that about 1,000 Alaska children have been tested for lead exposure over the years, but pediatricians stopped doing the tests because they never found anything.

Beller cited an incident at Bear Valley Elementary School in Anchorage earlier this year. The state tested 250 people connected with the school, including many who had had years of exposure to the water in the school.

No one showed lead poisoning, and most tested below Lower 48 averages.

The federal guidelines were developed to tackle major lead exposure problems in urban areas in other states with with old paint and antiquated water lines. The action levels were set to protect people drinking only that water every day for decades, he said.

''In the situation like a school you can almost say this action level makes no sense,'' Beller said. ''It is set with a very big margin for safety.''

Some parents said no margin could be too big when it comes to the safety of children and that the situation was frightening. They expressed concern that children who attended the school in the past and have moved on to higher grades could have latent health problems.

''For some parents, there is nothing I can say that will reassure you,'' Beller said.

After the meeting, arrangements were made for the blood testing.

The tests involve drawing a small blood sample and sending it to an out-of-state laboratory. Parents will receive notices in the mail asking if they wish their children to be tested. The tests will be done Nov. 2 between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. at the school.

Results will take about two to three weeks to process and will be mailed to parents, Beller said.

The tests will be free for students now at the school. State-funded testing for former students only will be considered if results indicate lead levels of concern, he said.

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