Superintendent discusses lead testing results at Ashland schools

Members of the Ashland School Board held a public meeting in person Monday night for the first time in months.
September 14, 2022

Handful of faucets at AHS, Bellview Elementary and AMS test higher than EPA standard

By Holly Dillemuth, Ashland.news

After approximately 20% of the spigots tested at the site of Ashland School District’s alternative school programs were found to have higher than normal amounts of lead in the drinking water when tested in May 2022, Ashland Schools Superintendent Samuel Bogdanove updated the school board on Monday night on the extent of the lead results, which includes “higher than normal” amounts of lead discovered in “a couple fixtures” at Ashland High School, Ashland Middle School and at Bellview Elementary.

Bogdanove, who said parents have already been notified of the situation, briefly discussed the findings and background on the issue during the first in-person Ashland School Board meeting since October 2021 on Monday night, as well as in a followup interview with Ashland.news on Tuesday.

Filtered and bottled drinking water is being provided to schools that need it. The district was among the first school districts in the state to start testing for lead in 2016, when it became a state law, according to Bogdanove.

Areas that test at more than 15 parts per billion (ppb) are immediately taken out of service, according to the district.

Lead levels higher than EPA standards were discovered in the following areas:

  • Ashland High School: First floor gym room drinking fountain (46.8 parts per billion)
  • Ashland Middle School: Room 203 sink (25.5 ppb)
  • Bellview Elementary: Drinking fountain in hallway, staff restroom at Bellview Elementary (672 ppb); and drinking fountain near cafeteria (668 ppb)

“We’ll continue to update folks,” Bogdanove told Ashland.news on Tuesday. “We want to make sure kids are drinking good water.”

In a Sept. 8 letter to staff at TRAILS Outdoor School, formerly known as John Muir Outdoor School and located at the site of the former Lincoln Elementary School where lead was discovered in May, Bogdanove updated families of returning students about the situation.

“As part of our regular water testing, we received a report on May 9, 2022, indicating that water in some of the classrooms at the Lincoln site exceeded the EPA limits for lead,” Bogdanove stated. “12 of the 60 spigots on site tested modestly above the EPA recommended level. The new wing of the building is not affected.”

Bogdanove emphasized that faucets were immediately closed and water bottles and dispensers were provided on site.

“All classrooms will continue to have access to bottled water and bathroom sinks will continue to have signage indicating the water is not potable until the issue is resolved,” he said in the letter.

Last spring, additional samples were drawn for secondary testing and the district received the results on June 7, he said.  

“The results of the secondary tests show that five of the faucets continue to have elevated lead levels after allowing the water to run,” Bogdanove said. “The recommended next step in mitigation was to replace the fixtures and shut-off valves on all the affected faucets, and retest.  This work occurred over the summer.”

The next step is to test again to see if the plumbing work addressed the issue, he said. That testing is scheduled for this fall. 

In talking with Oregon Department of Education officials tasked with tracking the issue statewide, Bogdanove told Ashland.news on Tuesday that 95% of the issues with lead in drinking water are usually caused by faulty faucet hardware or aging cutoff valve hardware, essentially external piping. 

“So over the summer, we’ve replaced those and are in the process of retesting those currently,” Bogdanove said. “Filtered drinking water will still remain available to kids and staff over there until we’re certain that that’s been mitigated.

“It’s not really consistent, so that’s a good suggestion that these are probably just issues with faucets and cut-off valves,” he added. “So we’re in the process of replacing those and we’ve made sure that kids can’t access them in the interim.”

Bogdanove said the parts per billion increase is “not dramatic” in comparison to some older buildings.

“That said I can understand why parents would want to become educated on it and make that decision for themselves,” Bogdanove said.

When asked when the issues will be resolved, Bogdanove said the district is in the process of addressing the situation and he doesn’t foresee them being a problem for an “extended period of time.”

Bogdanove said he wants to assure the public that any fixtures that have tested for higher than normal parts per billion of lead content in drinking water are not accessible.

“Generally speaking … lead exposure is something that’s cumulative over time,” he said. “Most of our kids have been bringing their own bottled waters for a number of years anyway, so it’s pretty unlikely that there would be any high level of risk for lead.”

He emphasized that the district hasn’t had to take additional mitigation actions on top of what is standard in testing for lead.

“Hopefully that’ll be resolved pretty soon,” Bogdanove told school board members.

Every school district in Oregon has been required to test all of its faucets every six years to make sure the lead levels are not above the recommended parts per billion since it became state law in 2016.  

The school district’s website posts all results of its water tests for parents to review, Bogdanove said.

“Folks can always reach out if they have specific questions,” he said.

Oregon Department of Education also has a webpage on its website that is current with information regarding water testing. For more information, go to oregon.gov/ode/schools-and-districts/grants/Pages/Healthy-and-Safe-Schools.aspx.

Reach Ashland.news reporter Holly Dillemuth at hollyd@ashland.news.

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Bert Etling

Bert Etling

Bert Etling is the executive editor of Ashland.news. Email him at betling@ashland.news.
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