OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – There is a growing concern about the possibility of toxic lead in water Wednesday throughout Oklahoma schools and daycares as the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality continues a year-long program that tests their water for free.
The testing is open to any public school district or licensed childcare facility in the state. The state doesn’t require the tests be done for schools, despite low-level lead exposure being linked to learning and behavioral problems, stunted growth, low IQ and anemia. As of right now, the department said they only have six schools that have signed up and are on their list. So far, the department has only been able to test one district fully, and they ended up testing for elevated levels of lead.
“I think it’s a painless process and one that I don’t think should be worried about doing,” said Kim Templeman, a principal at Central Oak Elementary in the Crooked Oak School District.
That comment comes from someone who experienced the process firsthand. Templeman said the testing is like jumping into the unknown, but they decided to do it anyway. The results found four faucets in their building that tested for elevated levels of lead. However, it was not enough to cause any harm.
“If you’re worried about what it’s going to turn up, then you need to know anyway,” Templeman said.
While it wasn’t too much of a problem for Crooked Oak, doesn’t mean it couldn’t be more of a currently unknown problem for others.
“We all want to protect public health, especially our children,” said Shellie Chard, the Water Quality Division Director for the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality
As first reported by Oklahoma Watch, the department’s program is relatively new. It kicked into full gear in 2020. It’s set up to test any public school district and licensed childcare facility in the state.
“We work with them to develop either operational changes or replacement plumbing fixtures throughout their facilities,” Chard said.
Chard said the pandemic may be to blame for the lack of interest in the program. She said since schools at the time were not allowing people inside and were focused on other things regarding public health, it was hard for it to hit the ground running. However, she said more school districts have started to gain interest and they have been receiving more phone calls with questions about it.
Any costs to fix things they find faulty or causing lead to be in the water are left up to the districts. Chard said it’s best for schools to hop on board now.
“We think it is very important to start that sampling now, particularly while it’s voluntary,” she said.
While current federal lead and copper laws don’t require the testing in schools and daycares, Chard said new ones likely will.
“We certainly want to encourage all of our schools to contact us,” Chard said.
“It was an easily fixable problem,” Templeman said.
Templeman said they have replaced three of the faucets in the school and have one more still needing replacement. She said it was a relatively inexpensive fix. The Department of Environmental Quality said with more funding, they may be able to help some schools fix any problems they find.