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High Levels Of Lead Found In Water At Polk County Schools

The Environmental Protection Agency recommends that lead levels over 20 parts per billion be corrected in schools, but Polk County Public Schools reports  it has adopted the stricter threshold of 15 parts per billion.
Wiki Commons
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

Drinking water at several Polk County Public Schools has tested positive for lead.

Now, the school district says it will test all of its schools for the highly toxic metal.

The Environmental Protection Agency  recommends that lead levels over 20 parts per billion be corrected, but the Polk School District reports it has adopted the stricter threshold of 15 parts per billion. Four schools so far have exceeded federal standards.

High levels of lead in tap water can cause health effects if it enters the bloodstream.

Rory Luce, Polk County School's maintenance manager, says the district is doing all it can to make sure water is safe to consume.

"And if we have readings that indicate otherwise, we're taking corrective actions through re-piping, through exchange of fixtures, bringing modern type fixtures in there, or providing bottled water,” he said.

Luce says the district expects to test 12 to 15 schools per week. Testing should be completed by early next year at a cost of approximately $150,000.

Testing will be done at facilities built prior to 1986. After that date, building codes restricted the use of lead pipes.

Luce, says district-wide lead testing was last done in the 1990s.

"But since then there hasn't been any testing up until this point. In light of the recent findings, we've decided to go through and backtrack through the entire district again and test all the water samples to make sure the children are receiving safe water,” he said.

The highest level of lead was found at Winston Academy of Engineering in Lakeland, which was built in 1928.

High levels of lead were also detected at Cleveland Court Elementary in Lakeland, Inwood Elementary in Winter Haven, and Union Academy in Bartow. 

Polk Avenue Elementary was also tested but no elevated lead levels were found at the school.

In a letter to parents of students at affected schools, Polk County Schools Superintendent, Jacqueline Boyd, said drinking water at those schools has been turned off.

Ongoing updates and results from lead testing at Polk County schools can be found on the school district's website.

Copyright 2018 WUSF Public Media - WUSF 89.7

Cathy Carter is the education reporter for WUSF 89.7 and StateImpact Florida.