Get the lead out, state’s schools told: New law requires parental notice

Sunday, November 25, 2018
Bedford County Board of Education members Diane Neeley and Glenn Forsee talk with Austin Warren, a member of the Leadership Bedford youth class. Warren and several other Leadership Bedford students attended Tuesday’s meeting. Board member Michael Cook and Don Embry, school superintendent, are pictured in the background.
T-G Photo by Dawn Hankins

New state law taking effect in January makes it mandatory that parents of Bedford County students be notified within five days if any school’s water tests show high levels of lead.

The state considers anything more than 15 parts per billion of lead content to be high. But if level tests show 20 parts ppb, parents have to be warned of the potential risks.

“I know that we did test on our own two or three years ago,” School Superintendent Don Embry said.

Sources outside the school system will be conducting future biennial lead detection tests, Daniel Kleindienst, school maintenance director, told school board members Tuesday night. Tests only have to be conducted every two years if lead levels remain in the acceptable range — one which trickles down from the Environmental Protection Agency.

Complicated standards

When it comes to knowing whether water’s safe to drink, it very nearly requires an environmental degree to understand those EPA standards.

If test results show that lead levels equal or exceed 20 bbp, the school system will immediately remove the water source, such as a drinking fountain. That source cannot be used until retesting confirms the water is within policy standards.

The school board has approved a new policy of standards, as recommended by Tennessee School Board Association (TSBA) which allows local school systems to be responsible for making sure water quality tests are conducted. In addition, if test results show that lead levels equal or exceed 20 bpp, the school will be proactive in its efforts to bring the levels to acceptable range. Retesting also has to reoccur within 90 days.

The superintendent’s office is responsible for notifying the appropriate authorities within 24 hours of a test result showing high lead levels. State proponents have said the most important part of this legislation, which only took a year to pass through both Senate and House, is that it guarantees parents the right to be notified.

Dangers

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) list lead poisoning as one of the most preventable childhood diseases. However, the CDC also states lead exposure is particularly harmful to the developing brain and nervous system.

The final state bill applies to facilities built before 1998. Lead solder was banned by the government in 1989.

The school maintenance division reports on any inspections. Kleindienst said Tuesday that a bright spot is that a company inspecting state schools has informed him that only a few have thus far have tested positive for high levels of lead.

School board member Glenn Forsee asked Kleindienst, “Is there any kind of filtration systems now, or is everything general usage . . . county and city?”

Kleindienst said most of the student water comes directly from the water fountain. He said there are a few schools where additional filters have been added.

New contract

Kleindienst is employed with Bedford County School System through its contract with Aramark Management Services. The board awarded the facilities management bid once again to Aramark on Tuesday night.

A $315,530 one-year contract (which includes an option for automatic annual renewal for up to five years) was awarded. The next four years are close to the same amount.

Aramark supplied estimated expenses for every building in the school system within its bid. For its award amount, Aramark is responsible for everything from maintaining portables to purchasing custodial equipment and supplies.