Schools weigh water testing

Bartholomew Consolidated and Flat Rock-Hawcreek school corporations are considering whether to participate in a voluntary lead water sampling program offered through the state.

Indiana Finance Authority is offering the program to all Indiana public school districts to ensure all schools have safe drinking water, said Jim McGoff, director of environmental programs with the finance authority. The program is free to Indiana public schools.

BCSC hasn’t decided yet whether it will participate, said Jim Roberts, superintendent.

Steve Forster, BCSC director of operations, said most of the district’s water supply is provided through the city of Columbus. The district worked with the city last May to test the water supply for lead and copper at most of the district’s buildings. No readings of lead or copper were discovered in that testing, Forster said.

The tests were done locally after Flint, Michigan officials revealed children in that community had been exposed to lead after that city changed its water source and corrosive water interacted with lead-contaminated pipes throughout Flint’s water system.

Lead may appear in tap water when corrosion occurs in plumbing materials or connections that contain lead, the finance authority said on its website. Lead may also leach into tap water if a service line connected to a home or school has lead components.

Lead can originate in solder on pipes, fixtures, valves or other plumbing components made of brass.

Locations that will be tested in Indiana schools include drinking fountains, ice machines, food preparation sinks, nurse’s office sinks, teacher’s lounge sinks and any fixture used to provide water for human consumption.

BCSC is preparing to have independent tests performed at Rockcreek, Mt. Healthy and Taylorsville elementary schools as those buildings were not tested last May, Forster said. Eastern Bartholomew Water Corp. provides water to those schools.

The district also plans to begin testing water in its building each year, Forster said.

He is seeking more information from the state about how often the free tests would be performed before the school corporation commits to participating in the state program, he said.

Flat Rock-Hawcreek School Corp. officials also are evaluating the state program, said Superintendent Shawn Price.

There haven’t been any problems with the district’s water quality, Price said. The school corporation has had independent testing done in previous years to confirm that, he said.

“I’m not concerned at this point, but we always want to make sure we’re on top of things,” Price said.

The finance authority expects most water samples at schools will be satisfactory, but will be prepared to assist schools if an elevated lead level is found, McGoff said.

“Schools have access to funding options via the IFA’s State Revolving Fund loan programs to address immediate needs,” McGoff said. “If a sample test reveals elevated lead levels, the IFA and the Indiana Department of Environmental Management will work with the school district to map out next steps to address the situation.”

The State Revolving Fund loan program provides low-interest loans to Indiana communities for projects that improve wastewater and drinking water infrastructure.

To participate in the leading sampling program, districts must complete a questionnaire that allows the finance authority to prioritize the extent of sampling needed in each school district. Information sessions with participating school districts are planned in the coming months. Indiana Department of Environmental Management trained personnel will perform the water sampling.

The finance authority’s website indicates that only the first water testing will be free to school corporations, but if additional funding is obtained, the free sampling could continue. The Indiana Finance Authority is also requiring individual schools to fill out the questionnaire, rather than having a school official fill out the document for the entire school corporation.

For more information on the lead sampling program, visit in.gov/ifa/2958.htm.

Risks of lead-contaminated water

Lead can cause serious health problems if too much enters the body from drinking water or other sources. It can damage the brain and kidneys and can interfere with the production of red blood cells that carry oxygen to all parts of the body.

The greatest risk of lead exposure is to infants, young children and pregnant women.

Scientists have linked the effects of lead on the brain with a lowered IQ in children. During pregnancy, the child receives lead from the mother’s bones, which may affect brain development.

A blood lead level test is the only way to know if an individual has been exposed to lead.

— Source: Indiana Finance Authority Lead Sampling Program for Public Schools

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Matt Kent is a reporter for The Republic. He can be reached at 812-379-5712 or mkent@therepublic.com