Although elevated levels of lead were found in Clifton Elementary's water during routine testing in December, all is well at the school. And the man who took the samples said Wednesday there's no cause for alarm.
"It's probably a fixture problem, not a water problem," said Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) environmental health specialist Doug O'Neill. The positive results, he said, "could even be a lab anomaly or a problem with the way I sampled."
He took the samples, Dec. 22, after the students had left for Christmas vacation, and two of the 10 samples from the school's water lines revealed elevated lead levels. But these two did not come from drinking water.
"The lead was found in the hand-washing sinks," said O'Neill. "Eight [samples] came back clean — the drinking-water fountains and clinic and kitchen sinks were fine."
CLIFTON ELEMENTARY'S water is supplied by a well and is not part of the county's water system. O'Neill said he had "no idea" why it took almost two months to get the testing results back from the state lab. But FCPS Office of Safety and Security received the information last Thursday, Feb. 19, at 4:20 p.m. and conveyed to the school, early Friday morning.
Immediately, all water fountains there were covered and bottled water was brought into the school for students' and staff members' use. "Friday morning, before students arrived, the county brought in six water fountains," said Principal Dorothy Hughes. "And I'm going to ask for two more. We're checking it out very thoroughly and being very cautious."
She said Clifton doesn't use water to prepare its cafeteria meals, with the exception of a few items, "so we'll either take them off the menu or prepare them with bottled water." For example, she said, on Monday, the cafeteria served hash brown potatoes, instead of the mashed potatoes it had planned.
O'Neill said sampling will be repeated, "within the next week or two," and evaluated by the Virginia Department of Health. Meanwhile, said Hughes, life goes on.
"No one was alarmed, and it's business as usual, at Clifton Elementary," she said. "Our PTA Family Night Out, on Friday, was a big success. We had a luau theme and a deejay. There were contests and plastic leis for the children. We served pizza and soft drinks and had the new water fountains. It was a really fun evening."