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City and superintendents of YUHSD, Crane and District 1 agree: Student drinking water is safe

Following early returns of test results requested by the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality, local school superintendents and the City of Yuma wish to emphasize to residents that no students have been exposed to lead in drinking water in Yuma-area public schools.

ADEQ implemented a statewide water testing program following well-known reports of lead contamination in other parts of the U.S., such as Flint, Mich. Yuma schools voluntarily took water samples from all schools and sent them to ADEQ for testing.

The City and local school superintendents took a proactive decision, meeting together while tests were conducted in order to quickly alleviate any issues encountered. The good news was that the drinking water itself did not show any positive tests for lead contamination.

“Water is acidic, so other compounds will dissolve into it with long-term contact,” said Jay Simonton, Director of Utilities for the City of Yuma. “However, the good news is, our source water is very hard, so it’s far less susceptible to leaching. The water itself is not the source of any positive test. City water is tested on a continuous basis to ensure our water source is safe. Any source of lead would most likely be the material used to connect copper water pipes together.”

ADEQ published initial testing results on a website this week and sent copies to the schools and the City. Those results indicated several positive tests for lead at several school facilities; however, only one of those positive tests was at a building or section of a building that is currently in use.

That was a hand-washing station in the cafeteria at Crane Middle School, which tested at 21 parts per billion for lead, just higher than the 17 parts per billion measurement that is the threshold for mitigation.

“This sink is not used for food preparation, or drinking,” noted Dale Ponder, Executive Director of Management Services for Crane Elementary School District No. 13. “Under the guidance of ADEQ and the School Facilities Board, we have already changed the faucet to the sink in question.”

ADEQ had originally misidentified that sink as drinking water, and has since verbally assured Crane officials they will correct their website.

Positive tests were registered at Gwyneth Ham Elementary School, which has been closed since spring of 2012, according to Jamie Sheldahl, Superintendent of Yuma Elementary School District 1. The building has been unoccupied, meaning the water that was tested may have been in direct contact with lead-containing fixtures for nearly five years.

The ADEQ website had published a positive test at McGraw Elementary; however, the referenced sample was actually taken from Gwyneth Ham.

ADEQ indicated to school officials their website would most likely be corrected and updated on Monday.

One Yuma Union High School District facility registered a positive test: an inactive tap in a storage room at Vista Alternative High School South to which students do not have access.

“We literally had to use a wrench to get any water out of that tap,” said Yuma Union High School Superintendent Toni Badone. “It’s since been deactivated and we’ve placed a sign indicating any water from that tap is not to be used for drinking.” Additional mitigation will likely follow.

“Our local school superintendents and the City of Yuma wish to emphasize how serious we take any issues like this and want to assure parents and residents that we are happy to report that no students have been exposed to lead in drinking water in Yuma-are public schools,” said City Administrator Greg Wilkinson.

The City of Yuma is supporting the local school districts with additional testing and will increase school testing in the City’s normal testing list to ensure City water remains safe.

“Nothing is more critical to us all,” Wilkinson said.