MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - The Shelby County Health Department said Wednesday it is preparing to test thousands of Shelby County students who may have come into contact with lead in drinking water at school.
The information was released as Shelby County Commissioners got their first formal update on the situation. To date, 35 Shelby County Schools campuses have tested positive for high levels of lead in fountains or water sources. Information about the positive tests was first released last week.
The Shelby County Health Department has already said they’ll offer screenings free at their clinics to parents who have children that attend the affected schools. But Wednesday morning the health department revealed an effort to take testing on the road to test students at those schools.
“We don’t want parents to be overly alarmed. What we want to do is work with the schools to make sure parents have an opportunity to get their children tested,” said Alisa Haushalter, Director, Shelby County Health Department.
Haushalter said the risk of lead exposure to students at dozens of SCS campuses in minimal, but county government is prepared to test thousands of them to be sure.
“There truly is not a safe level of lead,” she said.
SCS said 60 out of 3,500 samples returned levels of lead above the EPA threshold.
SCS officials told Shelby County Commissioners Wednesday there was not lead in pipes but rather actual equipment itself, like water fountains or sinks.
Tuesday, SCS Superintendent Joris Ray said the devices were not regularly in use and that contributed to the lead buildup. They’ve since been taken out of service or removed.
The SCHD said early estimates show 19,000 students would need to be tested, in addition to 900 faculty members. The preliminary price tag is $80,000. The SCHD wants to conduct the school testing on site.
Haushalter said the testing is a three-step process. It includes an environmental assessment first, followed by a finger prick. If that test is positive, health officials will then do a blood draw.
“We want parents to have their questions answered, so there aren’t any unnecessary fears or concerns,” she said.
It’s possible Shelby County Commissioners could pass some type of resolution on the testing at their full meeting Monday.
“I am pleased that SCS and the Shelby County Health Department have taken a good, positive approach toward addressing this,” said Mark Billingsley, Chairman, Shelby County Commission.
Haushalter said the health department wants the testing to be done by the end of the school year and ideally the first quarter of 2020.