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Jefferson School's water gets EPA's OK

The water fountains at Jefferson Elementary School were back on tap Monday after test results showed lead in the water supply had been reduced to levels below those recommended by the Environmental Protection Agency.

Signs were posted at the school of about 500 students announcing the news that more than a month's work of changing out water system parts had succeeded in lowering lead levels to below 10 parts per billion, the recommended amount, said Medford schools Superintendent Phil Long.

Letters were expected to be sent home with students Monday explaining that the school's water is safe to drink, Long said.

The school had been providing students and staff with bottled water since officials discovered lead levels had spiked March 31 above 15 ppb.

Schools are required by the EPA to take action to reduce the amount of lead in water once it reaches 15 ppb.

The lead is believed to have leached from brass fixtures, valves or lead solder used to join or patch water pipes.

Even at small amounts, the toxic metal can have harmful health effects, among them behavioral problems and learning disabilities, according to the EPA.

Lead is most dangerous to children 6 years old and younger who may suffer developmental delays as a result of exposure.

In adults, it is more likely to cause high blood pressure and kidney problems. The main source of exposure is breathing in lead paint chips.

About 10 to 20 percent of exposure comes from drinking water, according to the EPA.

Medford School District officials on March 31 discovered lead levels had spiked above the amount considered acceptable after testing four water samples at the request of a school staff member who expressed health concerns about the water after undergoing blood work.

Plumbers narrowed down the possible lead sources through a series of water tests and replacing fixtures, valves and water line solder.

The district spent about $3,400 on water testing and $36,800 on valves, pipes, fixtures, district employee pay and a contracted plumber to replace parts in the water system and $3,200 for bottled water, said Mark Button, Medford schools facilities director.

The problem at Jefferson prompted the district to start annual drinking water tests at its schools. Tests at other Medford schools and district buildings will occur in the next two months.

"We want to ensure everything is safe for kids," Button said.

Reach reporter Paris Achen at 541-776-4459 or pachen@mailtribune.com.