Aurora’s two school districts to test for lead

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AURORA | Both the Cherry Creek School District and Aurora Public Schools plan to test water in schools for lead contamination this school year, according to district officials.

As first reported by education news website Chalkbeat Colorado, Aurora’s two public school districts are in the process of buttoning up plans to test old pipes in schools for dangerous levels of lead, following similar moves made by a wave of other Front Range districts. Denver, Jefferson and Douglas county public schools have all confirmed plans to test for lead throughout the school year, according to several recent media reports.

There have been no reports of lead contamination at any Aurora school, according to district officials — the tests are merely precautionary.

APS is aiming to shore up a plan for testing by the beginning of next month, according to district spokeswoman Patti Moon. She said the district has targeted the end of the semester as the deadline to begin.

Moon said there was no singular incident, including the recent lead contamination crisis in Flint, Mich., that spurred APS to solicit additional water tests.

“I think anytime we can be proactive about safety and security things, especially when there’s talk about it in the news, those are things we’re always looking at,” she said.

Although exact numbers remain nebulous, Moon said that APS plans “to test at most of our schools.”

Tustin Amole, spokeswoman for Cherry Creek schools said that Cherry Creek plans to test water at all its schools this academic year. She said Cherry Creek is aiming to begin testing before winter break and have results sometime this spring.

“The biggest thing is identifying the labs that would do the testing,” Amole said. “There’s not a timeline or a process just yet, but, yes, we are having that conversation and looking into how we should proceed.”

While Cherry Creek plans to test all its schools, structures built before 1986 raise increased concerns. That year Congress passed amendments to the Safe Drinking Water Act prohibiting the use of lead in pipes and solder, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. The Lead Contamination Control Act of 1988 also solidified rules regarding the toxic element, according to the EPA. Moon said APS did “extensive” testing of drinking water systems in all of its schools in 1987 to meet the then-new requirements of that act.

Cherry Creek built about 50 buildings between 1954 and 1986, according to Cherry Creek documents. The average age of buildings in APS is about 35 years old, according to district documents, but APS elementary schools, specifically, are closer to 46 years old on average.

Amole said that prior bond issues could have helped to remove lead pipes in older schools, though record keeping regarding those projects doesn’t date back very far. Both APS and Cherry Creek will ask voters for bond issues — as well as a property tax increase in Cherry Creek — this fall.

Still, 1986 is by no means a magic number according to Sherry Scaggiari, a quality control specialist with Aurora Water. She said adoption of those late 1980s regulations was slow.

“There’s really no good date,” Scaggiari said. “Lead and copper solder was used primarily between 1983 and 1987, but that doesn’t mean somebody didn’t have lead solder in their garage and didn’t use it. Also, the fixture could have been made in China and had lead in it.”

Aurora Water will help both APS and CCSD carry out the water quality tests this school year. The tests are not mandatory and have never before been administered at this scale, according to Scaggiari.

High levels of lead in drinking water stem solely from lead-based pipes and fixtures, Scaggiari said. No water leaving Aurora’s water treatment facilitates could contain any lead or copper, she added.

Aurora has some of the highest-quality water in the Front Range, and even the country, as the city is the only one in the country with a Phase IV “Excellence in Treatment” designation at three separate treatment facilities, Scaggiari said.

Water officials will probably take about a 500-milliliter sample of water from various sources of drinking water in schools in order to conduct the lead tests, she added.