Lead concentration levels in drinking water from schools in Oakland, California

Iskander Ararso, Judy Huang, Stephanie Lau, and Ai-Vy Le

Lead was often used in plumbing during the past century because of its malleability and ability to ensure water tight pipe connections. However, when this element was discovered to be poisonous, the use of lead pipes was outlawed. In spite of this, lead solder continued to be used until the late 1980’s. In 1991, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) passed an act that established a lead concentration limit of 15 ppb (parts per billion) in drinking water. Still, any trace of this heavy metal has been determined to be a health risk.

Several schools in the Oakland Unified School District have been built close to one century ago. Many schools were built during the time in which lead pipes or lead solder were allowed. As a result, drinking water at these schools is a cause for concern. In an effort to begin assessing the drinking water quality in Oakland schools, five water samples were collected from each of thirteen schools between mid March and early May 2006. Schools were specifically chosen because of their age and location. The samples were taken to the Lawrence Hall of Science for analysis, and the results were tabulated and analyzed. Preliminary analysis of our data suggests that drinking water in schools built after the 1950’s contain average lead concentrations above 15 ppb. Furthermore, out of the thirteen schools from which samples were collected, all but two issued water with lead concentrations that exceed the EPA action limit of 15 ppb Overall, our work thus far indicates that greater attention should be devoted to investigating lead concentrations in Oakland schools’ drinking water, and that in some cases immediate intervention strategies must be devised. To aid in such efforts, we plan to continue our study and further investigate water quality in Oakland Schools by collecting additional samples from a wider range of school sites.

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