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Staff file photo / Peeling ceiling paint collects in the bathroom sinks in the teachers' lounge as seen at Chattanooga School for the Liberal Arts in March 2014.

Hamilton County Schools will test 53 of its schools for lead in drinking water this summer, starting May 26.

All schools built before 1998 will be tested during this first phase. Schools built after 1998 — though it is not required by law — will be tested in a second phase.

"There are 53 schools in that first phase, and we will be able to get those all done this summer, so we're going to give ourselves time so that we can test it, and if there's an issue we can remediate it and retest before kids come back to school," said Justin Robertson, chief operations officer for the district, during a school board meeting Monday night. "Phase two will get started after that. ... We are not required to do that by law, but we thought it was the right step to take."

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Staff photo by Erin O. Smith / Mardee Miller, the principal at Howard Connect Academy, talks about the school's logo printed above the water fountains at the Chattanooga school in 2019. Though it has recently be remodeled, the former home of Howard Elementary is one of 53 Hamilton County schools that will be tested for lead in its drinking water in May 2020.

The Tennessee Legislature passed a law in May 2018 requiring school districts to test for lead in drinking water sources in schools constructed before Jan. 1, 1998. The legislation took effect Jan. 1, 2019, and school districts were given until the end of the 2020-21 school year to create policies and begin testing.

Tennessee law is less stringent than the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)'s national guidance. If results of lead testing in a school are equal to or greater than 20 parts per billion, the school will be required to remove that drinking water source from service, remediate the problem and retest until the lead levels test under 20 parts per billion, per Tennessee state law.

Under the Safe Drinking Water Act, the EPA sets safe levels of lead in drinking water at 15 parts per billion, which is the guidance that Hamilton County Schools plans to follow, Robertson noted Monday.

"There is some disparity between what the state recommends and what the EPA recommends, the EPA has more of a stringent standard ... so we are going to run with 15 parts per billion instead of the 20 required by the state," Robertson said.

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Lead can cause damage to the brain and nervous system, slow growth, learning, behavioral, hearing and speech problems in children.

In recent years, local public health officials have been concerned about the impact elevated lead levels across Chattanooga's Southside Lead Superfund Site — an area listed among the nation's most toxic places — will have on children.

Lead is present in the soil at the Southside site, and exposure to lead through soil, paint and drinking water is a concern for children.

Hamilton County Schools has set up a website with an interactive map where parents can see what schools will be tested this summer as well as the results of the water quality test after it has been conducted.

To view the map of testing sites or for more information, visit: www.hcde.org/safeschools/lead_testing.

Contact Meghan Mangrum at mmangrum@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6592. Follow her on Twitter @memangrum.

Hamilton County schools undergoing lead testing in 2020

— Chattanooga School for the Arts and Sciences, 1922*

— Lookout Mountain Elementary, 1929

— Normal Park Upper School, 1931

— Bess T. Shepherd Elementary, 1937

— Tyner Academy, 1938

— Harrison Elementary, 1939

— Normal Park Lower School, 1939

— Hillcrest Elementary, 1948

— Chattanooga School for the Liberal Arts, 1949

— Barger Academy, 1954

— Howard High School, 1954

— Howard Connect (formerly Howard Elementary), 1954

— Rivermont Elementary, 1954

— Woodmore Elementary, 1954

— Alpine Crest Elementary, 1957

— Lookout Valley High / Middle, 1957

— East Ridge High School, 1958

— Washington Alternative, 1958

— Dawn School (formerly White Oak Elementary), 1959

— Dupont Elementary, 1959

— Lakeside Academy, 1959

— Tyner Middle Academy, 1959

— Brainerd High School, 1960

— Red Bank High School, 1960

— Soddy-Daisy Middle, 1960

— Hixson Elementary, 1961

— Lookout Valley Elementary, 1961

— Orchard Knob Middle, 1961

— Thrasher Elementary, 1961

— East Ridge Middle School, 1962

— Chattanooga High School Center for Creative Arts, 1963

— Dalewood Middle, 1963

— Clifton Hills Elementary, 1964

— Hixson High School, 1966

— Brown Middle School, 1967

— Central High School, 1967

— McConnell Elementary, 1972

— Sale Creek Middle/High School, 1973

— Hamilton County High, 1975

— Ooltewah High School, 1975

— Sequoyah High School, 1975

— Ooltewah Middle School, 1978

— Big Ridge Elementary, 1979

— Daisy Elementary, 1979

— Snow Hill Elementary, 1981

— Soddy-Daisy High School, 1981

— Wolftever Elementary, 1988

— Wallace Smith Elementary, 1992

— Spring Creek Elementary, 1993

— Calvin Donaldson Elementary, 1995

— Hunter Middle School, 1995

— Loftis Middle, 1995

— North Hamilton Co. Elementary, 1995

* indicates year the school was built

 

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