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Employees In Dallas' Cotton Building Get Blood Tested After Lead Found In Water


Update: More than 150 Dallas school district employees had their blood tested for lead on Friday.

The employees are currently or were previously assigned to work in the William H. Cotton Building on South Lamar Street. District spokesman Andre Riley said employees will have two more opportunities to get tested during the next couple of weeks. Due to health privacy laws, results of those tests won't be shared.

“The district is paying for the screenings out of an abundance of caution," Riley said. "We want our employees to have the best possible information in order to make an informed decision about their health if there’s anything wrong.” 

District officials also met with employees and brought in experts this week to talk about the recent findings of EFI Global, an environmental health and safety firm hired to test water samples from the building.

The firm found higher than expected levels of lead and bromate, a byproduct of a chemical used to disinfect water. Some of the samples were also cloudier than what the EPA considers normal.

Riley said the water was tested after a district official realized it had never been tested.

“You test water when you believe there’s something wrong or you have an indication that there’s something wrong," Riley said. "It’s no different than the water that comes out of the faucet at your home. Unless it smells funny, it tastes funny or it causes you to feel differently, you typically just don’t test your water.”

Earlier this week, the city also tested water samples taken from the line that services the Cotton building. Those tests didn’t detect any lead.

Original post: Dallas school district employees who work in the William H. Cotton building will have their blood tested beginning today.

The district is paying for the tests, which will be done at the Cotton building on South Lamar Street. The decision comes after tests of the water there revealed higher than expected levels of lead andbromate, a byproduct of a substance used to disinfect water.

About 500 employees work in the Cotton Building, including those from Custodial, Maintenance, Environmental, and Warehouse and Transportation departments. Many of them check in there and then leave to work on different campuses.

George Rangel, executive vice-president with Alliance/AFT, the union that represent the employees, said concerns about the water isn’t a new issue.

“We’ve been telling the district for years that there’s been problems out there with the water and folks have been complaining to their supervisors as well,” Rangel said. “They felt like it had a different taste. A lot of folks wouldn’t drink the water from there. They’d get something from the vending machine instead or get bottled water.”

Rangel said employees have also complained about head and stomach aches. But no one’s been able to determine what’s causing those symptoms, he said.

On Thursday, the city of Dallas said water samples collected from its service line and tested this week met regulatory standards for safe drinking water limits and that lead wasn’t detected in the tap water.

Employees of the Cotton building will have two more opportunities to get tested – March 16 and March 21.

District officials have also released a summary of the water testing done by EFI Global, an environmental health and safety firm.

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.