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Hundreds Of Dallas School District Employees Must Move After Lead Found In Water Samples

Joost Nelissen

About 500 Dallas school district employees have to move out of the building they work in. That’s because small amounts of lead and other substances were found in the water there.

In January, EFI Global, an environmental health and safety firm, took water samples from the William H. Cotton building on South Lamar. That’s after Wanda Paul, the district’s chief operations officer, realized the water there hadn’t been tested.

The results came back on Monday and caused concern.

“There were higher than expected levels of lead and some other chemicals, ” said district spokesman Andre Riley.

Some of the water samples were cloudier than what the EPA considers normal. But Riley cautioned not to jump to conclusions.

"They are still well within the EPA’s tolerance, but at the same time, we want to ensure that our employees have the best possible environment, and the levels that we are getting back through the tests, they were not what we would want them to be," he said.

Besides lead, Riley said the company also found bromate, which is a byproduct of what's used to disinfect drinking water. It, too, was higher than the EPA’s recommended level.

For now, employees are being given bottled water and will be moved to another building after they return from spring break, which begins next week.

“For lead, the best case scenario is zero,” Riley said. “That’s what your test should come back with, or very low levels. So anything above zero is always going to be considered abnormal.”

The district contacted the city about the test results on Monday. Dallas spokeswoman Sana Syed said the city is also testing water samples from city-owned pipelines that serve the building.

“Our concern as a city is the safety of the public’s water supply and that’s what we’re testing for right now, so that test will essentially be testing for that entire area, that immediate area,” Syed said. “I don’t know that we can say it’s a dire situation, but it’s definitely one that everyone’s taking very seriously.”

The city is expected to have results from its testing sometime this week. Syed said the city performs thousands of tests on its water annually and maintains a superior rating from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.

Stella M. Chávez is KERA’s immigration/demographics reporter/blogger. Her journalism roots run deep: She spent a decade and a half in newspapers – including seven years at The Dallas Morning News, where she covered education and won the Livingston Award for National Reporting, which is given annually to the best journalists across the country under age 35.