Niemela says five in CHS science lab area will have signage advising people not to drink the water; another faucet at Highland will be removed and capped

    When students, teachers and staff return to Crookston’s public school buildings in September, those returning to Highland School might notice that a faucet receptacle that was there in the spring has been removed and the water pipes have been capped. At Crookston High School, a handful of faucets located in the science lab area of the school will have signs posting on them advising against anyone from drinking from them.

    Why? Because the six faucets tested for lead content in the water had readings that were considered too high. In the case of the one removed at Highland, Rick Niemela, transportation, buildings and grounds coordinator in the school district, said it tested “really high” and didn’t drop enough in subsequent testing, so it is being removed this summer.

    “Most of the ones tested were just outside the (recommended) window (for acceptable levels of lead content),” Niemela explained. “The drinking fountains that get a lot of activity, a lot of use, those all tested good.”

    The five in the CHS science lab area will have signs posted on them because, although their lead content dropped in follow-up testing, Niemela said they were still deemed too high for lead content.

    Requirements for lead testing in school districts’ water and drinking water have intensified of late, Niemela said. The Crookston district voluntarily tested its water in the past, and in tests five years ago “everything was fine.”

    In all, 120 faucets in the district’s public school buildings were tested.

    “The ones that tested high are the ones that aren’t used every day, like your lab sinks and sinks in back rooms,” Niemela explained. When an initial test shows unacceptable levels of lead in the water and follow-up testing doesn’t show enough improvement, he said the district’s choice is to remove the faucet or post signage indicating the water is not acceptable for drinking.

    So how does it work? Niemela said the evening before faucets are to be tested for lead content in the water, the water is turned on for 10 minutes. Then the tests are conducted the following morning. Niemela said he wasn’t certain the faucets that tested high were flushed long enough beforehand, but some of their scores didn’t improve enough on follow-up tests.

    The district is also required to have a management plan in place for testing water for lead content, and how to manage it. The school board at a recent special meeting approved the plan for the Crookston district. It calls for the next round of testing to be conducted in 2023.