Water fountains were among the water sources that contained unsafe levels of lead.

Water fountains were among the water sources that contained unsafe levels of lead.

Nineteen water sources in Macon County Schools contain unsafe levels of lead, based on results from the first wave of testing required by a new state law.

Confirmed sources were found at Macon County High School (eight sources), Red Boiling Springs Elementary (seven), Fairlane Elementary (three) and Central Elementary (one). They range from drinking fountains and cafeteria sinks to a shower and a cafeteria sprayer.

Each of those sources was removed from service immediately when the test results came back on Aug. 12, and the Macon County Schools Maintenance Department finished installing several lead filters this week.

"We will retest the levels before any of them are put back in service," Macon County Director of Schools Tony Boles said. "(Lead poisoning) is not even a concern, and we sent a letter of notification out to the parents with children at each of these schools. No cafeteria services were disrupted as a result of shutting the water sources down."

Boles said there is no way for the schools to measure how long students, faculty and staff may have been exposed to the lead, but no symptoms indicating lead poisoning have been observed.

"The risk to an individual child from elevated lead in drinking water depends on many factors," Elizabeth Hart, the associate director for the Tennessee Department of Health Office of Communication and Media Relations, said. "For example, the child's age, weight, amount of water consumed and the amount of lead in the water (are factors). Children may also be exposed to other significant sources of lead, including paint, soil and dust."

Hart said that if a parent is concerned about lead poisoning, they should consult their child's physician to determine if blood lead testing is appropriate.

"In young children, lead exposure can cause lower IQs, hearing problems, problems with attention, hyperactivity, developmental delays and poor classroom performance," Hart said. "At very high levels, lead can cause damage to the brain, red blood cells and kidneys. Pregnant women are also vulnerable to lead exposure ... (which) can harm the developing fetus, causing lower birth weight and developmental delays."

Under the law, which took effect in January, school districts are required to test all water sources in buildings that were constructed before 1998. The safety threshold for lead levels set by the legislation is 20 parts per billion (roughly equivalent to 20 micrograms per liter), with all sources meeting or exceeding that number to be shut down.

That number is based on Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) guidelines that were in place at the time the bill was being drafted, though states have the authority to set more stringent regulations than the EPA's.

According to Macon County Schools Maintenance Supervisor Randy Robinson, sources in the district measured between approximately 22 and 56 parts per billion, depending on the source.

"Some of them may have measured higher because the water we tested had been sitting for a month and a half or so," Robinson said. "Under the law, the water sample needs to have been set out for at least 12 hours before you collect it."

The goal is for those levels to drop below 15 parts per billion, based on standards set forth in the legislation. However, water sources can operate with annual testing if the lead levels fall between 15 and 20 parts per billion.

Robinson hopes to have an updated set of results in the next few weeks, at which point the district will know if it can begin using the water sources again.

"I want to send them all out at one time," Robinson said. "The state law says we have to retest them every two years to make sure the levels don't become elevated, and we're trying to comply the best we can to make sure nobody is exposed to any undue amount."