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Tests clear schoolchildren of lead threat

Posted: Friday, December 08, 2000

Children at Kalifornsky Beach Elementary School do not have lead poisoning, according to test results announced this week.

The Alaska Division of Public Health's epidemiology section sent a report Wednesday to the Kenai Peninsula Borough and the school detailing results of blood tests on students and staff.

"As stated in the report, all students and staff tested had very low blood lead levels, well below levels of concern. No additional testing of current or former students or staff is necessary," epidemiologist Mindy Schloss wrote in the cover letter dated Tuesday.

The epidemiologists recommended that the district continue to work with the state Department of Environmental Conservation to ensure that water quality standards are met.

Individual blood test results were sent to the families with copies of the report. Individual results are not being released to the public.

People started receiving the results in their mailboxes Wednesday.

Trena Richardson, principal at the school, said the news was a relief.

"We are pleased that it is behind us," she said.

The tests found all the lead levels to be half or less of the minimum level of concern. The students and staff showed about half as much lead in their systems as people in other states. Most tested at or below the limits the laboratory could detect, according to the report.

Sixteen adults and 214 children, about half of those at the school, were tested. The state paid for blood draws and the laboratory analysis, which was done at ESA Laboratories in Massachusetts.

Results were measured in micrograms per deciliter. The level of concern determined by the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention is 10 for children and 25 for adults. Those amounts are the lowest levels at which adverse effects may first be possible, according to the report.

The K-Beach school group tested between zero and 5, with most around 1. In the kindergarten room with the highest measured lead level in the water, most of the six students tested showed lead levels at about 1.2, and the highest amount was 2.

National norms run between 1 and 4, depending on age.

"Small amounts of lead are present in food, water and air," the report said.

Parents were pondering the news Thursday. Some remained skeptical.

"I will probably have her tested again," said Doris Gattenby, whose daughter is a fifth-grader at the school.

"I think I am going to do a little more investigation into what is normal."

K-Beach is the third school in a decade where the state has tested for lead exposure following water quality problems. The others, Port Graham on the Kenai Peninsula in 1993 and Bear Valley in Anchorage in 1999, also yielded all negative results.

The K-Beach problem arose when a previous water treatment system malfunctioned and water samples taken in April failed federal Environmental Protection Agency lead standards. Because of communications problems, the state DEC and the borough maintenance department, which were in charge of overseeing the situation, did not notify the school district until the end of September.

Sept. 29 the borough put the school on bottled water, and the school notified parents of the problem.

Parents expressed concerns about the children's potential exposure. State, borough and district officials met with parents in October and arranged for the blood tests. The epidemiology section and the Kenai Health Center carried out the blood sampling.

"Since blood lead testing was done 34 days (after the school stopped using tap water), it is possible that blood lead levels were slightly higher while school water was still being consumed," the report said.

"However, the blood lead levels measured on Nov. 2 and 3 were so low that any increase would not raise concern about exposure at the school."

Borough maintenance workers installed a new water treatment system in November. It injects sodium silicate, described as an inert substance, to coat the inside of pipes to prevent leaching of lead into the water.

The process of adjustment and testing is under way. The school will remain on bottled water at least through the remainder of this school year and until tests verify the water quality.

"It gets tested every day," said Bill Kopecky, general foreman of the maintenance crew.

Richardson said she and her staff look forward to the final resolution of the situation.

"We are continuing to work with the borough maintenance department to make sure the water solution is long term," she said



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