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Lead in water causes anxiety at Jefferson County school

March 09, 2001

Lead in water causes anxiety at Jefferson County school



By DAVE McMILLION / Staff Writer, Charles Town


Parents of children at South Jefferson Elementary School questioned health and school officials for about two hours Thursday night about the cause of elevated lead levels in water at the school.

There also was discussion about eight staff members and four students at the school who have been diagnosed with cancer in the past 10 years, although health officials at the meeting said there is no link between lead and cancer.

Water from sinks in two classrooms at South Jefferson was tested for lead. The average lead level for the two sinks was 23.5 parts per billion, above the "action level" of 15 parts per billion set by the Environmental Protection Agency, Principal Gretchen Van Camp said.

It is believed solder joints in the water lines feeding the two classrooms have a high lead level, said John H. Norman, coordinator of facilities management and construction for Jefferson County Schools.

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Norman said he plans to begin replacing the water pipes in the school as "time and money permits."

Van Camp said the lead levels in classrooms 14 and 12 are not bad enough to require the water system to be shut down. But the levels were elevated enough to prompt the school system to send a letter to parents that said "we must put an action plan into place."

Some parents expressed frustration about the amount of information released one the results and how their reporting was handled.

They mentioned a notification that was to have been sent to the community from a lab in Charleston analyzing the test results.

Norman said the information was never sent.

"So the people that drink the water fall through the cracks," said one parent.

"Where does the buck stop? Who does it stop with? We need some feedback," said parent Erin Rickards.

Rumors have been circulating in the community that the school may have been built on a site were pesticides were mixed for nearby orchards, health officials and parents said. Parents pushed for a soil test to determine if that is true.

Randy DeHaven of the Jefferson County Health Department said there was "absolutely no information to substantiate the rumor," but said he would investigate.

Of the eight school staff members diagnosed with cancer, four were diagnosed with breast cancer, and one each was diagnosed with colon cancer, prostate cancer, lung cancer and cancer of the vagina. Two students were diagnosed with leukemia, one with astrocytoma of the brain and one with sarcoma of the connective tissue of the leg, health officials said.

The cancer rate at the school does not constitute a "cancer cluster," a state Department of Health and Human Resources official said in a letter to the Health Department. A cancer cluster is defined as a cancer occurrence greater than the expected number of cases at a specific site within a small area or within a short period of time, said Loretta Haddy, director of the Division of Surveillance and Disease Control.

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