LAUSD to Test Randomly for Lead

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This week the L.A. Unified School District said it would start randomly testing drinking fountain water for lead. The district's under pressure from a TV news investigation and parents. KPCC's Molly Peterson explains why little bubbler fountains are such a big deal.

Terry Malone: It probably takes about 30 to 40 minutes to do the whole school.

Molly Peterson: For 14 years, Terry Malone has managed the buildings and grounds at Woodlake Avenue Elementary School in Woodland Hills. Each morning, he says he disinfects the fountains, and then runs the water to flush it of lead that's might have leached from the pipes overnight.

Malone: I get it and I go like this. (sound of water on sink) I count to 30 seconds on each bubbler.

Peterson: This daily process helps the district avoid $300 million in piping upgrades. But last fall a city audit found that some schools weren't keeping good track of it. So the district started requiring records from all 900 campuses. Malone shows his most recent log; he says he wasn't always perfect at filling it in.

Malone: Sometimes I get to the log right after it. Sometimes it might be later on. Sometimes I forget. But I don't forget to do the drinking fountains, and stuff like that.

Peterson: Iwa Kim supervises the school district's environmental health and safety office. She admits that custodians didn't always follow flushing policy. But, she adds, it's impossible to pin any child's potential lead exposure on one source.

Iwa Kim: The likelihood of drinking water, and then you have a lead level in the blood, is probably very minimal. I mean children are exposed– they'll get lead probably in their peeling paint, or, you know, those toys.

Peterson: Or somewhere else; older homes can have lead in their pipes. Parents know that. But at Woodlake Avenue Elementary, PTA president Paul Somerjian says complaints about water quality over years have yielded slow progress. Somerjian's got a first grader and a fourth grader at the school. He says the district's plan to clamp down on recordkeeping and replace broken fountains doesn't impress him.

Paul Somerjian: They're just, in my opinion, trying to do damage control.

Peterson: Somerjian says that just as the district says it'll keep closer watch on plant managers, watchdogging parents will do the same with L.A. Unified.