Hellgate Lead Testing Results Shock Students

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A water dispenser on the second floor by the custodians lounge. Photo by Asa Stuart.

Asa Stuart, Reporter

     In early 2020, Montana required all public schools to test their water faucets and drinking fountains for lead. Schools were given until December 31, 2021 to test and report the results. In early 2022, Missoula County Public Schools got back the test results for their tests, and 30% of the fixtures were above acceptable levels of lead. According to the United States Environmental protection Agency (EPA), the maximum contaminant level goal (MCLG) for lead is 0 parts per billion (ppb). The MCLG is determined by the EPA and is the level in which drinking lead contaminated water will cause no adverse health effects. 

     Out of the 63 tested faucets at Hellgate, 44 were in the green zone, which is less than 5 ppb, 12 were in the yellow zone, which is 5 to 15 ppb, and 7 were in the red zone, which is anything over 15 ppb. Out of the 7 red faucets, three were in the hundreds, but one could just be due to a faulty test). In room 284, a south sink tested at 208 ppb, but Bill Fischer, one of Hellgate’s custodians, says that the sink has been turned off for months, and they tested it right after it was turned on for the first time. The high test results are due to a build up of lead and other materials in the faucets.

     All drinking fountains, sinks, and other faucets which tested above the threshold have been bagged, labeled, and shut off so they aren’t used, and several water dispensers have been set up around the school. When the faucets are replaced, they will be replacing many with newer drinking fountains, that include bottle fillers. 

     For all Missoula County public schools, there are only two plumbers, so replacing the faucets will take some time. Because lead can harm younger kids’ development, health and learning, replacements will start at the elementary schools and make their way up to high schools. 

     With the remodel of Hellgate from 2016 to 2019, a new line for water, new plumbing, and new faucets were all added, but only in the new areas. In the science wing that was built in 1988, the worst results were found. In Jeanette Rankin, a new elementary school up Miller Creek, was built within the past 5 years, but also tested for high levels of lead. 

     For many high school students, the lead in the water has both concerned them, and made their daily lives difficult. “If you don’t have a water bottle it’s nearly impossible to find a drink, unless you want to risk drinking lead,” says Thalia Lambros, a junior. With many fountains closed off and the risk of drinking from the few open, many students opt to not drink school water. To provide water for students, Hellgate has put out five-gallon water dispensers.