This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
After finding elevated lead levels in nearly 50 school drinking outlets, Philadelphia is expanding its water-testing program.
The School District of Philadelphia now plans to test the water at each of its 200-plus schools over the next 18 months. Originally the district said it would test only at 40 high-risk schools and that the testing program was purely precautionary.
The district announced its original testing initiative in August. At the time, officials said they were targeting older schools with younger students. They also said they had no reason to suspect district students were at risk, and that the new round of testing was meant to ease concerns raised by the lead crisis in Flint, Michigan.
“With the new heightened level of concern from Flint, Michigan, our stakeholders — parents, students — have been really wanting to see more testing,” said Francine Locke, the district’s environmental director, at the time.
Since then, the district has tested the water at 26 schools and has results from 22 of those schools. So far, 86 percent of water outlets have passed the test, but the other 14 percent have failed. In raw numbers, the district has tested 361 outlets and found 49 with a lead concentration greater than 15 parts per billion, the minimum threshold for lead content established by the district.
All outlets found to have an unacceptable level of lead were shut off within 24 hours. Those taps can be brought back online if they are fixed and pass subsequent tests.