Elevated concentrations of lead were found in about 4% of the water samples collected from faucets and drinking fountains at selected Hawaii public schools and child care centers over the last several months.
Water from nearly 100 fixtures is no longer being used, according to state officials, while monitoring and testing continue under a national effort to test drinking water sources for lead at public schools and child care facilities that started here in February.
Testing of 58 schools and 70 child care facilities in Hawaii, Maui and Kauai counties has been completed so far, officials said.
To date, 93 of the 2,232 sampled taps at schools show elevated concentrations of lead above the project action level of 15 parts per billion (ppb), while four of the 100 sampled taps at child care centers had results above the action level.
Michael Miyahira, acting branch chief of the Department of Health’s Safe Drinking Water Branch, said the schools and child care facilities were notified immediately after test results were known.
“We would like to assure the community that taps that had elevated levels of lead will not be used for drinking or food preparation until the problem is fixed,” Miyahara said in a release.
Lead is a heavy metal that is naturally present in the environment and has been used in the manufacture of such things as pipes. When lead gets into human bodies, it can harm the brain and nervous system. Long-term effects of childhood lead exposure include problems with learning, school performance, attention and behavior as well as anemia and other health problems.
While 4% of sampled taps indicated results above the action level so far, comparable projects on the mainland have had rates of about 5% to 6%, officials said.
Testing on Oahu began in mid-July and results will be available on a rolling basis.
Schools and centers with lead concentrations below 15 ppb have been provided strategies to minimize lead exposure, such as daily flushing of the water, using certified lead-free filters or turning the tap into a hand wash-only station.
Initial results indicate that the faucet fixtures are the problem in most cases, Miyahara said, but follow-up testing should reveal if the problem is the individual fixture or the plumbing behind the wall.
Historically, regulated water systems in Hawaii have not shown lead contamination.
The state Department of Education is now creating a plan to replace affected fixtures or evaluate the plumbing of schools where results show elevated levels of lead.
The current phase of this project will test 106 public elementary schools and 123 Department of Human Services-licensed child care facilities, which were selected based on criteria established by the Environmental Protection Agency.
An application was submitted to the EPA for additional funding to test the remaining 73 elementary schools and 30 public charter schools in phase 2 of the project, which is expected to begin next summer.
More information about the project can be found at https://health.hawaii.gov/WIIN.