Cadmium levels in school water supplies exceed safe limits

We predicted this would happen... when Seattle public schools first decided to act on the lead problem they had known about for years, the held a meeting looking for direction on how to solve the problem. Of course, solutions were not what they were seeking, but instead they wanted to have engineering firms advise them on how to deal with the problem. The school officials decided to treat for lead by removing and replacing water fountains and in a few cases re-plumbing entire schools.

The problem, of course, is that treating for any single contaminant will leave you exposed to others. If you don't choose a thorough and robust solution, but instead choose a "Band-Aid" approach, you will ultimately discover your treatment system can't handle the next contaminant that appears. And you can be certain new contaminants will appear -- it is only a matter of time.

New dangers found in school water

Cadmium levels exceed EPA limits

Saturday, October 23, 2004


Less than two months after water fountains were declared safe in 38 Seattle schools, district officials may be instructed next week to turn many of them off again and bring back bottled water.

The move, which could affect more than 20 schools, is being prompted in part by inconsistent lead test results and concerns about potential health risks posed by small amounts of cadmium found in the school water.

In January, after drinking water at some schools tested high for lead, the district shut off faucets and fountains and began providing bottled water to all schools built before 1997. Tests were then conducted districtwide to check for lead, cadmium, iron and other contaminants.

Spurred by those results, repairs were made at many schools over the summer -- including replacing all fountains and pipes at four schools. As of Oct. 1, the fountains had been turned back on at 38 schools.

But in recent weeks, parents have raised concerns that not all drinking water sources were tested for cadmium, a toxic heavy metal more commonly found in industrial workplaces than drinking water.

Tests on two-thirds of fountains throughout the district showed that 2 percent to 3 percent had cadmium levels exceeding limits set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Parents say they're worried about even low levels of exposure to cadmium, which can cause kidney damage.

The district is testing water filters at two locations, Memorial Stadium and the old Magnolia Elementary, now closed, but a report from the consulting company conducting the tests advises that filters do not effectively remove cadmium from drinking water.

Parents have also pointed out that test results for lead in drinking water fluctuated widely when locations were retested.

Sally Soriano, who heads the School Board's policy and legislative committee, plans to ask Superintendent Raj Manhas next week to shut off water at numerous schools with questionable contamination levels. Test data is being analyzed this weekend, she said, and a list of schools will be compiled early next week. "We had it under control with the bottled water last year, at least from January to June, so we could tell the parents that there's bottled water and not to worry about it. But the filters don't protect for cadmium."

The policy and legislative committee has informally agreed to adopt a maximum of 10 parts per billion for lead in drinking water, twice as stringent as the 20 ppb recommended by the EPA. The committee is expected to make a recommendation on maximum standards for iron, copper and other materials considered secondary contaminants after a public forum with lead experts at the University of Washington on Oct. 30.

Speakers include Bruce Lanphear, a professor of children's environmental health at Children's Hospital Medical Center in Cincinnati, and Richard Maas, co-director of the Environmental Quality Institute at the University of North Carolina-Asheville. It will be 10 a.m.-12:30 p.m. in Room A102 in the Physics-Astronomy building.

P-I reporter Deborah Bach can be reached at 206-448-8197 or


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Oct. 23, 2004

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