Water testing for lead and copper

  • Frequently Asked Questions...

    What lead levels were found in the BPS sampling program?

    The majority of water samples collected in BPS buildings do not have detectable levels of lead in them. However, we have found a number of taps that have detectable levels of lead that are likely due to minor corrosion of plumbing fittings and fixtures that contain lead. These samples typically contain lead at less than 15 ppb. These levels have been detected in most buildings, and mostly at faucets rather than drinking water bubblers. There are a smaller number of samples with higher levels of lead that are likely from lead particulates that get trapped in faucet screens, also known as “aerators.” These samples have measured over 50 ppb and sometimes over 100 ppb. The complete results of the BPS lead and copper sampling program are available at https://www.birmingham.k12.mi.us/water.

    What levels of lead in water should I be concerned about?

    In 2016, MDEQ published new guidance for lead and copper sampling in schools. Prior to this publication, schools were recommended to take action if a water sample measured 20 ppb or greater for lead. The 2016 publication refers to two new guidance levels for lead in drinking water. Per the EPA Lead and Copper Rule, the lead action level in water is 15 ppb; this action level is a measure of treatment effectiveness and not a health standard. For this reason, the MDEQ recommends that schools take action to lower the lead in their drinking water if the test results are over 5 ppb, which is the bottled water standard

    Are our tests and levels good, bad? How do we compare to Flint, MI?

    There is no grading variant to any of the EPA listed items for water, no "good, bad, worse..." there is only an "Action Level". If the level of a contaminant, natural or otherwise, is above the action level - action must be taken.
    Per TRACE Analytical and the State of Michigan, levels of lead in the water throughout the city of Flint (residences, schools, businesses, etc.) ranged up to 1000 ppb.

    What is BPS doing to remediate water fixtures?

    BPS has prioritized addressing water sources that measure over 15 ppb. When lead in water samples is measured over 15 ppb, the water source is turned off. The BPS facilities team removes and cleans the faucet aerator and tests the water source again. If the next test measures less than 15 ppb it is returned to service. If the water source does not test below 15 ppb, the fixture is replaced and retested. Once the fixture tests below 15 ppb it is returned to service. 

    How will BPS assure that safe drinking water is provided to students?

    BPS has been very proactive with its water sampling program, by sampling every tap and remediating every tap where lead is measured over 15 ppb. We do recognize that we continue to detect occasional increases in lead, even in taps that have previously tested as non-detect for lead. Starting with the 2018-2019 school year, we encourage students & staff to use the state of the art filtered water bottle filling stations that have been installed in the schools.  We encourage students to bring their own water bottles and use these stations to meet their drinking water needs while they are at school. Taps that are not designated for drinking water should be used for handwashing and other non-potable uses only and are being marked accordingly.

    What are the requirements for sampling drinking water in schools?

    Michigan has no requirements for sampling drinking water in schools that receive their water from a community water system. All BPS school buildings get their water from community water systems, so there are no sampling requirements. BPS made the choice to follow lead in schools sampling guidance provided by EPA (prior to 2016) and new guidance for sampling lead and copper from MDEQ that was published in 2016. BPS does not sample for any other drinking water contaminants.

    Will hand washing or showering in water with a lead or copper content above the recommended levels be harmful?

    Per the CDC (U.S. Centers for Disease Control) “Human skin does not absorb lead in water”. It is recommended that all users are advised not to drink the water while showering or hand washing, instead drink from appropriate drinking water sources (i.e. fountains, bottle fillers).
    See the question below regarding copper.

    Did BPS test the water before this recommendation on August 1, 2016?

    BPS Operations utilized ARCH Environmental to test for lead in drinking water sources throughout the district on a three-year rotating basis (1/3 of our total buildings each year). We did not have a positive test during the last 10 years. However, the EPA standard / MDEQ standard in place was 20 mg/L during that time.

    Are all school districts testing and responding in this same manner?

    No. BPS is testing above the recommendations to provide a full picture of our water sources and a baseline for all future testing. Many school districts will be testing only the recommended areas – drinking and cooking water sources. Some school districts are only testing randomly.

    If the district was testing water for the past 10 years, why were there no positive results for lead and copper until now (2016)?

    There was no recommended or mandated testing for copper levels prior to the August 2016 MDEQ publication. Lead levels in the water were tested under the (at the time) existing EPA action levels of 20 mg/L. This action level was lowered to 15 mg/L with the MDEQ August 2016 document.

    What steps are used to sample and test the water?

    A very specific, detailed description and directions for the sampling and testing of the water can be found in the MDEQ document linked on the watwer testing main page.  In summary: Water sources are flushed for a minimum of 10 minutes, allowed to sit undisturbed for 8 to (a maximum of) 18 hours, then small volume sampled for testing. Deep samples (large volume) are taken at three sites (near, middle and far from the building/city source) for testing.
    All testing is performed at State of Michigan certified laboratories.

    What are "Large Volume Samples"?

    After the small samples are drawn at the fixtures, large samples are drawn at three sites in the building - near to the building water source, middle of the building, and far from the water source to test and analyze the water quality deeper within the water supply system. After the small samples are drawn at the fixtures, large samples are drawn at three sites in the building - near to the building water source, middle of the building, and far from the water source to test and analyze the water quality deeper within the water supply system. Ten, one-liter samples are drawn at each location. This testing and volume at each location analyze the qualities of the systemic water distribution system in the building.
    The variance in these tests will guide the diagnosis and remediation plans for any fixtures or areas that may require repair or replacement.

    How does BPS maintain the filtered water bottle filling stations?

    At the locations where schools have installed bottle fillers, the filters are being replaced according to the manufacturer’s recommendations. The district is using only filters from the bottle filler manufacturer (Elkay). Per the manufacturers' specification sheet the filters are rated with NSF/ANSI 42 and NSF/ANSI 53 ratings for filtration. In addition, most of the filter stations include a flow meter that indicates when the filter needs to be changed. The frequency of filter replacement varies by school and water use at the station. BPS has been changing filters as frequently as every 2 week in high-use areas like cafeterias.

    From the Elkay website:
    Elkay tests and certifies our filters to NSF/ANSI Standard 53, “NSF/ANSI Standard 53 for Drinking Water Treatment is the nationally recognized standard for evaluating and certifying drinking water treatment systems for the reduction of contaminants from drinking water. Water filters are tested and certified to NSF/ANSI 53 to ensure they reduce contaminants, including lead, per the requirements of the standard” (Certified Product Listing, NSF)."

    Why did the MDEQ recommend testing for copper? Has BPS done that before?

    The US EPA has an action level for copper in water of 1.3 mg/L (1300 ppb). This action level applies to municipal water supplies and has been in place for since 1991. Testing for copper is part of the municipal water supply testing requirements under the Safe Drinking Water Act (See municipal water quality reports link).

    The MDEQ guidance of August 1, 2016, included copper in the testing profile for schools and daycare facilities. We were able to locate a fact sheet on the health effects of high-level copper exposure from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services - Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. Fact Sheet - Copper CAS#7440-50-8.

    Copper, in small quantities, is a required nutrient/element for good health in the human body. As with anything, high-level exposure may have harmful effects.