Cashmere School District Discovers High Lead Concentrations in Their Water
Cashmere School District recently discovered high levels of lead in their water.
Since 2021, the Department of Health (DOH) is required to test all public school water systems for lead every five years, particularly for plumbing built or replaced before 2016.
On Jan. 20-21, the DOH sampled 142 fixtures at Vale Elementary School, Cashmere Middle School, and Cashmere High School.
The district got their results back from DOH on Feb. 24, who made the following discoveries:
- Vale Elementary had seven water fixtures that showed elevated lead levels, the highest being two steam kettles and the school’s kitchen sink. The handwashing/prep sink reached up to 76.2 ppb in one test; the general kitchen sink reached 38.6 ppb in another test; Steam Kettle #1 was found with 19.9 ppb in a test; and Steam Kettle #2 was calculated at 119 ppb in its initial test.
- Cashmere Middle School found elevated lead levels in a classroom bottle filler at 7 ppb.
- Cashmere High School had six water fixtures that were found with higher lead concentrations; a discontinued remodeled kitchen sink was at 15 ppb; three locker room water fountains were found with 10 ppb each; and two newly installed Family and Sciences sinks were found between 8-9 ppb each.
Sites found with lead levels above 5 ppb were discontinued immediately.
Cashmere School District Superintendent Glenn Johnson said the steam kettles were used infrequently and that Vale’s bottle filling station wasn’t being used at all.
Johnson also shared that Vale Elementary is currently washing their produce at Cashmere Middle School, along with using more pre-packaged foods.
After disconnecting all of the affected fixtures, the district notified the City of Cashmere.
The city informed the district that their water source is tested regularly and met all requirements for lead levels, concluding that the lead was not coming from the city’s water supply.
On March 7, the district notified parents in a letter detailing the results and their plan moving forward.
Out of the 14 fixtures found with lead, three of them were either remodeled or brand new. Johnson said these new installations will still be replaced and they are not concerned about the cost.
“Bottom line is there will be a cost but safety is a priority and we're going to act and we're going to act in an informed way,” Johnson said.
Side effects of lead exposure include lower IQ levels, lower attention spans, hyperactivity, increased fatigue, or other side effects that could impact childhood development.
Young children are the most at-risk for lead exposure, who absorb more lead and are more sensitive to harmful effects compared to adults.
Chelan-Douglas Health District Health Administrator Luke Davies said it can be challenging to spot the difference between the perceived risk of lead exposure versus the actual risk.
“We're gonna see some numbers that are kind of alarming, but it doesn't necessarily mean that those exposures are turning into real detrimental outcomes to the community,” Davies explained. “It just means that they found that there is concentration within them.”
Davies clarified that they are not minimizing the risk of lead exposure, only that frequent communication was key in addressing a recent exposure.
The district’s School Remediation Action Plan will be finalized within the next six months, with a chance for the community to provide feedback on that plan before then.
Johnson said families do not need to bring their own water to school and that his office is working proactively on addressing any concerns families may have.
“I don't have all the answers right now, but we are finding those answers and we're doing it with people that know what they're doing,” Johnson said.
Fulcrum Environmental Consulting already finished testing sites in Vale Elementary and are scheduled for more testing for Cashmere High School and Cashmere Middle School.
Test results from both Fulcrum and the DOH can be found on the district’s website here.
Anyone experiencing lead exposure symptoms should contact their local healthcare provider.