Both the Mehlville and Lindbergh school districts are testing their schools for lead in the wake of lead contamination found across schools and universities in the region, in buildings both new and old.
Lindbergh Schools is testing all 10 of its buildings for lead contamination, and the Mehlville School District has already started spot checks on water fountains in each of its schools to decide whether to pursue more widespread testing, officials at the districts told the Call.
“We decided just for the peace of mind of parents to go ahead and do that testing,” Lindbergh Communications Director Beth Johnston said. “We’re very confident it will come back negative again, but we do want to go ahead and test, just to be safe.”
At the Call’s press time, neither district had received the results.
Any lead pipes in Mehlville would probably be in the district’s oldest schools, the Witzel Learning Center and the former St. John’s Elementary that could become a school of innovation, Mehlville Superintendent Chris Gaines said.
Lindbergh Schools initially did not plan to test for lead since tests in 2004 came up negative. Although building projects in Lindbergh have used lead-free materials, however, that precaution has not been enough to protect water supplies in other districts.
Like SLPS, where 32 schools tested positive, Lindbergh and Mehlville took more accurate “first-draw” samples, taken “stupid early in the morning” after faucets sat overnight, Gaines said.
Lindbergh Executive Director of Planning and Development Karl Guyer estimates the cost to test the entire district at $1,264, Johnston said. In Mehlville, the spot-checking recommended by Facilities Director Steve Habeck cost roughly $1,600, Gaines said.
Facilities directors in the region have used advice from each other to come up with best practices, Gaines said.
“All the Steve Habecks of the region have really been talking” after SLPS’ positive tests, Gaines said.
Newer schools have tested positive for lead in part due to a misleading aspect of the U.S. Congress’ 1986 amendment to the Safe Water Drinking Act that banned lead pipes. The legislation also banned pipe fittings and fixtures that were not lead-free, but it defined “lead-free” as 8 percent lead or less.
Legislation went into effect in 2014 that changed the definition of “lead-free” to 0.25 percent.
But by then, many schools had been built with “lead-free” fittings that were not actually lead-free.
The problem could also come from plumbing fittings imported from China that may be contaminated with lead despite being marketed as lead-free, Gaines said.