High lead levels found at Grosse Pointe schools

Candice Williams
The Detroit News

Elevated lead and copper levels were found in six classroom buildings in Grosse Pointe Public Schools, the district said Monday.

In an email to parents, Superintendent Gary Niehaus said 10 of 130 samples taken at the district’s 15 schools had levels that exceeded federal standards.

Lead levels at or above 15 parts per billion were found in pre-flush samples taken at Defer, Kerby and Maire elementary schools, the Barnes Early Childhood Center and Brownell and Pierce middle schools.

Copper levels at or above 1,300 parts per billion were found in pre-flush samples at Barnes and Pierce.

Two drinking fountains — one at Defer and one at Pierce — showed excess levels of lead after being flushed, the district said.

The highest lead level — 70 parts per billion — was found in a pre-flush sample from a sink at Barnes. The highest copper level — 1,900 parts per billion — was discovered in a pre-flush sample from a drinking fountain at Pierce.

The Grosse Pointe district released the results just days after officials in Detroit Public Schools reported that elevated levels of lead or copper were found in tap water at 19 of 62 schools tested in the state’s largest district.

The tests in DPS showed 15 schools had tested positive for high lead levels and eight had excessive copper levels.

Officials in both districts said they decided to test the supply in their schools in the wake of lead contamination of Flint’s water after the city switched its supply to the Flint River in April 2014.

“Like many school districts across the state, after the Flint crisis, GPPSS wanted to be proactive in protecting its students and staff,” Niehaus said at Monday’s news conference. “Our district was among the first to begin voluntary testing.”

Because less than 10 percent of the samples came back at elevated levels, Niehaus said that he does not believe the district has a systemic issue.

“I feel like when you’re living in buildings that are 50-90 years old, I thought there might be more,” he said during a news conference late Monday afternoon. “In this case, coming back with only 10 samples kind of gave a feeling that it’s not a systemic problem, it’s not a system problem and it’s not a source problem, meaning it doesn’t have anything to do with the water supply getting into the schools.

“It’s not something that we think is structural because we only got 10 areas we need to look into.”

In Grosse Pointe’s testing, a pair of samples — one drawn immediately from taps and a second drawn after two minutes of flushing — were taken at “representative drinking foundations and sinks at each building,” the district said.

The samples were collected by Testing Engineers & Consultants Inc. and tested by Livonia-based Paragon Laboratories.

After receiving the test results Friday, the district requested TEC return the following day to collect samples from all drinking fountains at Defer, Ferry Elementary and Pierce. Ferry was included in the retesting because its results were initially reported incorrectly. Results are expected later this week, officials said.

Niehaus said that all faucets with elevated results have been shut off. A plumber will replace all affected kitchen faucets by the end of the week, he said.

The district spent $8,000 to test the 130 initial samples taken March 29-31.

In a statement Monday, Scott Chandler of TEC said the findings of the initial screening in the Grosse Pointe schools “are comparable to what we’re seeing in other schools and buildings that we have tested.”

Last fall, a Virginia Tech water expert who helped uncover the contamination of Flint’s water said Michigan schools likely had undetected lead problems.

“You would definitely find it in other schools (in Michigan) — not all schools,” said Marc Edwards. “You’ll have some schools where every tap tests clean. But with schools, every tap has to pass.”

Lead and copper exposure can lead to health problems ranging from stomach pain to brain damage, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The federal Lead and Copper Rule that governs drinking water does not require schools to test their tap water. Two Michigan state senators have proposed legislation calling for mandatory testing in schools, but no action has been taken on the measure.

At Barnes, the elevated lead and copper levels were found in a faculty lounge sink; at Pierce, the excessive copper level was discovered in a drinking fountain, while the high lead levels were found in drinking fountains in a first-floor gym and on the second floor.

At the other affected schools, high lead levels were found in a kitchen prep sink and a drinking fountain at Defer, in two sinks at Brownell and in first-floor kitchen sinks at Kerby and Maire.

Niehaus said in the email that the district has disconnected all of the fountains where tests showed excessive lead or copper levels and delivered bottled water to Defer and Pierce schools.

Parent Barbara Peberdy said she was concerned to hear that higher lead levels were found at Maire and Pierce, where her two children attend school.

Peberdy said her son, a sixth-grader, doesn’t like to carry a water bottle and would rather drink from the fountains at Pierce, where two locations had elevated lead levels. No more, she said.

“I told him I’d like him to start taking a water bottle again and stop using the drinking fountain,” she said.

She said she was also concerned about the kitchen sink at Maire, where she said the kitchen was used for students in an after-school program her son and daughter attended for five years.

“I don’t think I’m going to do any special testing because luckily we haven’t noticed any issues with developmental delays where we would question anything like that,” she said. “But it is definitely concerning.”


News Staff Writer Jim Lynch contributed.