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Howard Co. school offers blood testing after finding high lead levels

HOWARD COUNTY, Ind. (WISH) – A Howard County school district is offering free blood testing Friday for students and staff after finding higher than recommended levels of lead in a source of drinking water.

Eastern Howard School Corporation’s superintendent Dr. Tracy Caddell sent a note to parents earlier this year, explaining they’d found an elevated level of lead in the water in the Life Skills classroom in the high school.

School officials decided to test the water as a precaution after the Greentown Municipal Water Co. found elevated levels of lead in a few houses in town.

Additional testing showed one more location with higher levels of lead than normal in the water, but officials say even more testing showed normal levels.

The school district took multiple precautions in the days after receiving the test results. They say they’re using bottled water for drinking and cooking right now.

Officials say the EPA considers anything over 15 parts per billion to be elevated. The initial test of the water in the Life Skills classroom was 20 parts/ billion. Officials said to put that in perspective, some of the most contaminated water in Flint, Michigan, was 13,000 parts / billion.

The health department says any risk of lead-related health concern is low in Howard County. But the school district still decided to offer free and voluntary blood testing if students or staff were interested Friday.

Caddell says of 1500 students in the district, 600 elected to have the blood test.

Jennifer Sexton, with the Howard County Health Department, said they’re not sure of an exact timeline to get the results back, but it could be several weeks.

She says if any child tests higher than the recommended safe level by the CDC, five micrograms per deciliter, follow up depends on the child’s age. She said they will do another blood test, and if that comes back elevated as well, they assign a case manager to work with the family on the next steps.

“Depending on their age certain things are required by law, it may include even a home inspection, A licensed lead risk assessment of the home, to determine if there are other sources of lead outside of what we’re here for today,” said Sexton. “It’s bringing a nice bit of attention to the situation with blood lead poisoning in general, so I think if we find positives, we may find they’re from other sources. We go ahead and do those lead risk assessments.”

Sexton says it’s rare any treatment is required for elevated levels of lead. She says they will work to eliminate that source of lead to cause levels to come down.

Caddell says the district has identified 38 drinking fountains throughout the district that are tied in some way to pre-1996 pipes. They will work to put filtration systems on all those drinking fountains, then will retest the water. Caddell says they will then move forward under the advice and assistance of the Howard County health department and IDEM.

“The next step long term would be to develop a plan that would replace those pipes. That may take awhile, but the first step is to get those filtration systems on,” said Caddell.

Until the water fountains are deemed safe, Caddell says students will be drinking bottled water. That’s costing the district $400 dollars a day. Caddell says the filtration systems will cost $350 dollars each. He says you can’t put a cost on student safety.

Waddell added, their message to parents is that they’re working to be transparent, and that their kids are safe.

For all information from the school district, click here.