The Penn Manor School District has discovered alarmingly high levels of lead at one of its elementary schools, but officials and independent health experts said the exposure and risk to students was minimal.
Water tests ordered by the district revealed high levels of lead in two Martic Elementary School classrooms last week, and administrators cut off access to the sources and brought in bottled water for students and staffers.
The tests found the level of lead in water from one combined water fountain and sink to be 112 parts per billion, more than seven times the federal limit of 15 parts per billion and higher than contaminated water in Flint, Michigan. Water from a second water fountain and sink had about 18 parts per billion.
"I was certainly not expecting the test to come back that high," said Michael Leichliter, the superintendent of Penn Manor schools.
The district is sending letters home to parents to inform them of the test results. Elevated lead levels in children, especially very young children, can cause learning and speech problems, lower I.Q. and lead to hyperactivity and behavior problems.
School officials said the water sources were accessible to only a small number of children. Because of the infrequent use and the age of the students, lead experts said the risk of harm is low.
"The youngest child who used any of those sinks would have been 5 years of age. The highest risk group is 9 months to two years because that is the time that brain development is the fastest," said Jeffrey Martin, a family doctor and chairman of the Lancaster Lead Coalition.
"From my understanding, the levels were high in the sinks that were not being used very often so it's unlikely that any child would have a significant elevation,” Martin said. He noted children are more likely to be exposed to harmful levels of lead from paint in their homes than from a school classroom.
He added that parents who are concerned about their child’s potential exposure to the water can have a doctor check the level of lead in their bodies.
The district has conferred with lead experts at the Children's Hospital in Philadelphia, who confirmed the risk to be minimal. School officials intend to conduct more tests at Martic, but said tests at other Penn Manor schools came back normal.
The only school not tested was Conestoga Elementary, which is under construction.
Leichliter said the high levels of lead at Martic may have been the result of standing water in the plumbing over the summer. That water may have caused lead from the pipes to leach into the source.
School are not required to test their water for lead. But many began to do so after problems surfaced in drinking water in Flint in 2014 and 2015.
Solanco replaced water fountains in its high school and middle school over the summer after finding elevated levels of lead there.
"Lead is getting a lot more attention, as it should," said Solanco Superintendent Brian Bliss.
In September, the Conestoga Valley School District conducted tests of water it gets from wells. The results are not yet available. Donegal School District got a clean report on lead in water in all of its schools, said director of operations and safety Mark Heckaman.
Likewise, Lampeter-Strasburg and Manheim Township reported there was no elevated lead in their school water when it was tested. Warwick reported all their lead tests showed water was within federal standards.
In the School District of Lancaster, tests conducted in the oldest and non-renovated buildings before the school year started turned up only one area of concern — a hand washing sink located in a custodial area in the basement of Buchanan Elementary. The district did, however, replace water fountains at both Wickersham and the Phoenix Academy as a precautionary measure.
“We are confident we have safe drinking water for all our staff and students,” district spokeswoman Kelly Burkholder said.
Other school districts have not yet responded to an LNP request for water testing results.