The State Health Department and State Office of Education are gearing up to begin a program of systematic testing of school water coolers to determine lead content in the water.
Kenneth H. Bousfield, of the state's Bureau of Drinking Water/Sanitation, said there is no reason to believe that there are any serious problems with school drinking water and advised against parents sending bottled water to class with their children.
"Parents need not worry. The amount of lead contributed by drinking water could be a maximum of only 20 percent, with 80 percent coming from other sources. Our investigations will take place and appropriate actions will follow. There is no need for anyone to crawl under beds."
Some water coolers have been found to have lead-containing solder in them, or lead-lined water tanks. The amount of lead that might end up in the water is expected to be minuscule, he said.
The lead content would be expected to be highest in the morning after water has been in the cooler reservoir for the longest period of time.
Samples will be collected, probably by school personnel, from each school water cooler early in the morning. They will be analyzed at one of the state's certified laboratories. The expected cost to the schools will be $15 to $20 per sample. Most of the laboratories are along the Wasatch Front.
Although Congress authorized a sizeable fund to help schools, day-care centers and others required to participate in the program, no money was actually appropriated. The schools will be expected to absorb the costs of testing and remedying the problem, if necessary, Bousfield said.
He said the health department is making use of established "information pipelines" to implement the testing program. The State Office of Education will cooperate to alert superintendents in the 40 school districts to the requirement. They then will pass the information to the schools in their jurisdictions.
The state's Social Services Department also will be asked to cooperate by providing names and addresses of day-care centers they oversee. Private schools also will be contacted, he said.
Environmental Protection Administration standards for lead in drinking water are being revised, but in general, the water coolers will be judged safe if lead levels are below 20 micrograms per liter. Corrective action will be required if the levels are between 20 and 50 micrograms per liter.
Bousfield said Utah's "hard" water has an advantage in that minerals, including lead, tend to collect on pipes and other surfaces, coating them and interfering with the water-surface interface and reducing the hazard.
Routine tests of drinking water sources in the state indicate no lead problems, he said. If the school samples show lead content, it would likely be traced to the plumbing system or the cooler itself.