School Water Investigation – Part 5

District outlines plans

May 2008 - The LAUSD just unveiled a new, long-term plan to remove dangerous amounts of lead in the water at LA area schools.

Members of a special school district panel are asking questions and demanding action, to reduce lead in school water.

"Channel four news aired their investigation on lead...we put together a task force team," said Earl Perkins, assistant Superintendent with the district.  

Task force members just unveiled a sweeping plan of action. A key part of it, they've just begun testing filtering systems, to see if they'll remove lead from the hundreds of unsafe drinking fountains in city schools. KNBC's investigation found 30 percent of schools (9 out of 30) tested had water with lead levels above what the government says is safe.

"We're evaluating lead free plumbing materials and filtration systems that are designed to eliminate lead," said Neil Gamble of LAUSD to the special school district panel.  

Those filters could cost $53 million to install. But officials are also developing a costlier long term master plan that would replace all the old lead pipes and fountains in schools at a cost of $300 million. It's a permanent fix, which would have to be approved by voters.

"Is it better to run a bond measure that has $300 million dollars in it, and just do it?" said LAUSD School Board Member Julie Korenstein.  

Until there's a long term solution, the district has come up with a new revised policy to flush the lead out of school water. The old policy required custodians to flush or run every fountain before it was used each day. KNBC's investigation found, most custodians weren't flushing the fountains, and falsifying records to say they were doing it. Now, the district is relying on teachers, coaches even school nurses to flush fountains in their work areas, while custodians still have to flush all the outside drinking fountains and keep a log of it.

"How will you be able to tell if a custodian is falsifying the flushing logs?" Grover asked Perkins.  

"Uh that's a good question Joel. I don't know if there's a direct way that we can definitely see if they're falsifying," Perkins replied.

Whatever steps are taken to make school water safe, they'll be closely watched by the school board and by concerned parents.   "There are 700,000 kids in the la unified school district drinking this water every day," LAUSD Parent Steve Thoma told the special district panel.

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