KCS discovers lead in water fountains

Maintenance department removes water fountains

A CLEAN DRINK OF WATER. Rayna Welsch drinks from a fountain at Sevier Middle. KCS recently replaced several fountains across the district due to lead.

Aubree Puckett

A CLEAN DRINK OF WATER. Rayna Welsch drinks from a fountain at Sevier Middle. KCS recently replaced several fountains across the district due to lead.

By Aubree Puckett, John Sevier Middle School

Recently, lead was found in Kingsport City Schools water fountains. These water fountains were located at Dobyns-Bennett High School, as well as the elementary schools Jefferson, Johnson, Kennedy and Roosevelt. Overall, thirteen water fountains tested positive for lead levels that are simply too high.

Jaycee Crowford is a 6th grade student at Sevier Middle. She is concerned about the lead in the water fountains

“It’s gross,” she said

Alyssa Lafrance, an 8th grade student, agreed.

“It’s bad and gross,” she said.

Tony Weaver is a sixth grade social studies teacher. He, too, was worried when he heard about the problem.

“I was concerned because the EPA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that there is no known safe level of lead in a child’s blood,” Weaver said.

Students, such as seventh grader Kira Welsch, believe that students could have bad health effects from this lead.

“If there’s too much, a child could get badly sick,” she said.

LaFrance agreed.

“In children, lead can affect the brain development process and the nervous system,” LaFrance said.

Lead in water can, in fact, be harmful to children. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, lead can cause lower IQ and hyperactivity, slowed growth, hearing problems and anemia.

Bill Shedden, Supervisor of Maintenance and Custodial Services for Kingsport City Schools, agrees that lead poses a real danger.

“If too much lead is consumed by young children, it may cause behavior and learning problems,” Shedden said.

How did lead get into these KCS water fountains?

“The lead found in recent testing of water fountains in all schools built before 1998 is mainly due to the older style water fountains that have a lead lined holding tank for the cooled water it stores,” Shedden said.

Kingsport City Schools has removed and replaced the water fountains that tested positive for lead.

“The state required we take corrective action if any unit tested was at 20 parts per billion or over,” Shedden said. “We went a step further. We removed all the water fountains that were over 15 parts per billion. We replaced four of the 13 that were over 15 parts per billion and retested. All passed.”

Weaver believes that the school is doing everything right.

“I think the school system is doing exactly what they need to be doing: testing the water on a regular basis,” Weaver said.

Rachel Wagner, a Language Arts teacher, believes that the school system may want to go a step further.

“Replacing all water lines that are made of lead is the only way to eradicate the problem,” she said.

Crawford believes that checking the water is the key.

“They should clean out the water fountains daily,” she said.

Sevier Middle School was not one of the schools found to have lead in the water fountains. Family liaison Debbie Moore was happy with this outcome.

“I feel confident that our school isn’t included in this problem,” she said.

Is there a safe level of lead in drinking water?

“Only a large amount of lead can harm your body, but if we are continuously drinking it, it can still harm us,” LaFrance said.

According to Tennessee state law, drinking water should have less than 20 parts per billion of lead.

“It’s like finding a marble in a swimming pool,” Shedden said.

Most students agree that the lead levels in water fountains should be checked often

“They should check it every six months,” Welsch said.

Crawford disagreed.

“It should be checked every day or once per week,” she said.

According to Shedden, lead levels have to be checked every two years.

“This is a new state law that went into effect January 1, 2019,” he said.

In the end, it is the goal of Kingsport City Schools to keep all students safe.

“We are lucky [at Sevier]; however, the problem needs to be fixed wherever it is,” Wagner said.

This story was originally published on The Sequoyah Scribe on November 13, 2019.