Filtering the water
Cabrillo Unified Schools have installed filters at a couple of locations where tests revealed lead levels in the water that concerned administrators. Photo courtesy Cabrillo Unified School District

In response to concerns about lead in the water at schools in Cabrillo Unified School District, the district is moving forward with a plan to get 25 filtered water bottle filling stations installed across Cabrillo campuses.

The issue was brought to the attention of Cabrillo staff when a 2018 environmental report showed elevated levels of lead in two water sources in the district, one in a classroom used for storage at El Granada Elementary School and the other in a back room of a science lab at Half Moon Bay High School.

Cabrillo Superintendent Sean McPhetridge said maintenance staff installed filters, which are replaced yearly, on the two problematic sources.

“I went to go physically verify that those spots are being filtered,” McPhetridge said.

While reported lead levels in faucets across the school district remain below the state and federal maximums of 15 parts per billion, to McPhetridge, any lead in the water is a concern. That’s why he is going to the school board in the coming months to get approval to install filtered water bottle filling stations across Cabrillo campuses.

“The California Plumbing Code said you have to have a water fountain for every 150 students,” McPhetridge said. “Our goal is to have filtered water stations per those numbers on every campus.”

McPhetridge said the plan is still in its early phases. The district is currently seeking a proposal from a water filter company and getting legal counsel on whether bond money will cover the costs of the project.

In addition to providing safer drinking water for students and staff, McPhetridge said the filling stations would help reduce the use of single-use plastic bottles and encourage sustainability.

“We want to promote healthy habits and good environmental habits,” McPhetridge said.

Montara Water and Sanitary District General Manager

Clemens Heldmaier said his office helped the district create the 2018 report in compliance with the California Legislature’s mandate for lead testing in

all schools built before 2010. There were no reports of elevated lead contamination at schools within the MWSD’s range.

Heldmaier explained that water becomes contaminated with lead when it runs through old pipes in schools or homes that leach lead and copper into the water. “The water district doesn’t deliver the lead to the customer,” Heldmaier said.

He explained that if lead levels become unsafe, water

districts can treat water by altering its pH to make it less corrosive and less likely to take

on substances like lead and copper.

Coastside County Water District General Manager Mary Rogren confirmed that her district follows the same protocol by closely monitoring water quality and pH levels. Rogren said the district doesn’t have any significant concerns about lead in the water it delivers, but does encourage customers with old pipes to upgrade.

Heldmaier said the nature of the construction of school water fountains can create problems.

“For drinking fountains, you’re going to have very long service lines,” Heldmaier said. “That’s when you experience higher leeching.”

According to Albert Nuevo, a San Mateo County Health department nurse who treats lead poisoning in kids, health problems as a result of lead in water are rare here. Nuevo said lead poisoning is a widespread issue in the county, but most problems arise from lead paint in old homes. He has yet to see a single case of lead poisoning from a water source.

Residents concerned about lead in their homes can contact their local water district and refer to the county health department website, which contains information about testing and safety.

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