School drinking water is not being tested on Austin ISD campuses

AUSTIN (KXAN) -- Concern in Austin spurred on Wednesday by a situation in another town dealing with lead in school drinking water.

High levels of lead have been reported in schools in Michigan, New Jersey and New York.

This month, thousands of students in Newark, New Jersey are being tested for lead poisoning after elevated levels were detected in 30 schools. The environmental agency that tests their city water said it was safe to drink, so now experts are pointing to the plumbing and aging infrastructure.

The common denominator between all of the schools experiencing problems: urban school districts with aging buildings.

That describes many campuses in the Austin Independent School District.

"I would hope that my city is testing water," said Courtney Waldren, who has a son at O'Henry Middle School, and a daughter at the Liberal Arts and Science Academy.

Austin Water does test drinking water for lead before it hits the schools, but once it flows to campuses the water is the district's responsibility.

Austin ISD tells KXAN they do not test water on any campus, and it's not required. "It's very surprising to me they aren't testing it," said Waldren. " I was listening to NPR this morning, and the only reason it was discovered in Flint [Michigan] is because a college tested the water."

While we wait for answers from AISD about the age and type of pipes in its older schools, we do know about 50 campuses were built more than 50 years ago.

Some are a lot older. Fulmore Middle School, Pease, Blackshear and Matthews Elementary have all celebrated their 100th birthdays.

Austin Water does add agents to the water that create a coating on water lines and old pipes to protect against lead.

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality says the building's owner is not required to conduct water quality testing. If there is a concern about the quality of the water in the building, they are encouraged to get it tested.

TCEQ does do samples testing to check for lead, and a number of other chemicals in drinking water that is flowing out of faucets, but not on school campuses.

"As a property taxpayer in Austin I hope they are testing the quality of the water and that it is not going to be poisonous to my children," said Waldren.

She puts water testing in the same category as a school district doing criminal background checks on employees.

"To me this is the same safety issue. Safe building. Safe water. Safe environment for kids to learn."

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