Did LAUSD Break Promise to Clean Up Water?

School district has done little to deal with the lead problem in drinking water

"We're committed to providing safe drinking water." That's what an automated LAUSD phone message says. It was sent out to more than 400,000 parents, reassuring them the district is on top of the lead problem.

"The LAUSD has implemented a plan to ensure that drinking water in our schools is safe," the message says.

"Stop lying to the public." That's LAUSD parent Joanne King's response to the district's message.

In fact, our investigation has found the plan to make water safe has not been fully implemented.

Over six months ago, we took water samples from thirty schools, and at nine of them we found levels of lead that the Environmental Protection Agency says are unsafe.

At a press conference last April, the Superintendent said, "Effective immediately, we will institute a district-wide random testing program."

Last May, the district invited NBC Los Angeles along to see them take water samples at the first of what they said would be some 700 schools to be tested. But records we obtained show, they stopped testing after just 35 schools, citing a lack of manpower.

"You said 'effective immediately' there would be district-wide testing and there hasn't been," Grover told the Superintendent.

"No, that's not true. We've tested over 34,000," Superintendent Brewer told Grover.

"Where do you get your information?" Grover asked Brewer.

"From my staff," he replied.

But his staff, standing just off camera, said the Superintendent was wrong.

"No, we have not tested them," a staff member said.

In fact, they've identified 34,000 fountains that should be tested, but they haven't done the tests yet.

"I stand corrected," Brewer told Grover.

But that automated phone message told parents that the widespread testing is underway. "The district has initiated testing and inspection programs at all schools," the message says.

"It's shocking to me that nothings been done," says Steve Thoma, a Woodlake Avenue Elementary parent, who's become a water activist. He fought with the district, and got them to replace old lead pipes at his school. Then, he pushed the district to test the water at other schools.

"Here we are, over six months later, wondering when is this even going to begin," Thoma tells NBC Los Angeles.

We looked into another promise Superintendent Brewer made six months ago.

It was last April, that we discovered employees were ignoring the district's mandatory "flushing policy," which said janitors have to run, every fountain for at least thirty seconds, before school each day, to flush out water that has been sitting in old lead pipes overnight.

Back then, the Superintendent promised tough new rules to make sure employees followed the "flushing policy."

At a press conference in April, Superintendent David Brewer said, "These policies were instituted to protect our students and they will be rigorously enforced."

But over the last month, we've been once again watching custodians, this time at seven schools which all tested positive for unsafe levels of lead in the water.

At Van Gogh Elementary in Granada Hills, we saw the janitor walk by several fountains without ever flushing them.

At Ann Street Elementary, we saw a janitor vacuum all around the drinking fountains, but didn't flush them.

At Gardner Street Elementary, we saw a janitor flush the fountains, but only for ten seconds, not the minimum thirty seconds required to flush out all the lead-tainted water.

"How can this be happening still?" Grover asked the Superintendent.

"Well, I don't know why that's happening in those seven schools. But I know it's not happening in all of our schools," Superintendent Brewer replied.

"We took a sample of seven schools and only one of them was doing it properly," Grover told the Superintendent.

"We will look into that. We will look into that," he replied.

Now, the school district is asking voters to pass a $7 billion school bond, which among other things, would replace old pipes to remove lead and improve drinking water at schools.


"Let's get this bond passed, so I can get after this particular problem," Brewer tells NBC Los Angeles.

"Why would I be confident saying 'here's $7 billion for you to misguide, misdirect," says Thoma.

The district says at least $100 million of that bond money would be used to fix the lead problem. But they admit, there's no timetable yet for doing it.

"All the schools with old lead piping and lead fountains, how long is it going to take to replace all of that?" Grover asked Brewer.

"I don't know that. I have no idea," he replied.

Now, the district tells NBC Los Angeles it is going to quickly hire four people to do that water testing. They also promise that all 34,000 fountains will be tested within five months.

Previous Reports:

School Water Investigation - Part 1

Part 2 - Missing LAUSD documents obtained

Part 3 - LAUSD starts testing drinking fountains

Part 4 - Is LAUSD lying to parents about water safety?

Part 5 - District outlines bond measure plans

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