A new report released this week by the Environment Montana Research and Policy Center states that a majority of Montana schools tested found ‘unsafe levels of lead in drinking water’.

Spokesperson Skye Borden said the schools are not required to test for lead at all.

“Some of the largest school districts do voluntarily test, and they’re not required to report the results, so we submitted a records request in the fall just to find out,” said Borden. “Missoula has taken 140 tests in the past two years and 109 of those, which is 78 percent, returned some quantity of lead. It’s important to note that the EPA cutoff is 15 parts per billion, but that’s not actually a health-based standard. The American Academy of Pediatrics says health water contains no more than one part per billion.”

Borden said the highest levels were found at Seeley Swan High School, which the Missoula County Public Schools addressed last fall, however, there were also levels higher than the standards recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics.

“Rattlesnake Elementary is also very high,” Borden said. “Lewis and Clark Elementary and Sentinel High School also had levels that were more than 10 times that health-based standard.”

Borden also claimed that the state’s public schools are not even required to report lead contamination when it is found.

“There is no legal mechanism requiring a school to tell anyone or do anything about a really bad test result,” she said. “For instance, a district in Montana could voluntarily test, get an off-the-chart 10,000 times parts per billion reading, and legally not tell a single person and not do anything about it. That’s crazy, and that needs to change.”

In response, MCPS Superintendent Mark Thane said the district paid special attention to water quality as it was preparing for all the building and remodeling planned after the passage of the combined $158 million bond issue.

“It would be a travesty if we completed all our building and renovation at the schools and then found that we had water problems,” Thane said. “At that time, although it’s not required, we initiated testing in all of our schools to determine if we were within the EPA guidelines. All of our Missoula schools are served by our municipal water system and all the readings came back within the EPA guidelines.”

Thane said the fixtures that were causing the problems at Seeley Swan High School are being addressed.

“The problem in Seeley Swan High School was actually an abandoned water line in an area of the building adjacent to these fixtures, and when it was abandoned it was capped at the very end of the line, instead of at the source, so it could be that we had some stagnant water. So, we have a remediation plan when school’s out this summer to cap that off in a different location, flush the system and see if that rectifies those two particular faucets.”

Thane said since there are many local businesses and homes in the areas around the schools mentioned in the Environment Montana report and that are all served by Missoula Water, therefore all the water that comes from the municipal system falls within the EPA guidelines.

Thane said on Friday that of 10 tests conducted on the water at Rattlesnake Elementary School, seven came back at only one part per billion. Another came back at two parts per billion. There was only one that came close to the EPA contamination level, and that was at 14 parts per billion. Thane said that particular fixture was immediately changed out, and the district repeated that action on any other fixtures that approached the EPA's recommended level of lead. He said testing would continue.

A new report from the City of Missoula details the fact that Missoula Water tested 60 times for lead contamination in the period between March to October of 2017, and there were no EPA violations reported. In fact, Superintendent Dennis Bowman said the lead numbers were so low (2 parts per billion) that EPA officials are reducing the number of tests from 60 to 30 per year.

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