Oakland High School, District Tackle High Levels of Lead in Water

On just the third day of the school year, McClymonds High School and district officials were scrambling to fix a problem with unsafe levels of lead in the water.

The Oakland Unified School District sent an environmental health and safety manager to the school to test the water and found unsafe levels of lead coming from one water fountain at the football field and from the kitchen faucets in the cafeteria. Lead also was discovered in the showers in the boys’ and girls’ locker rooms, district officials said.

Tests showed the fountainhead, kitchen faucets and shower heads were the sources of the lead, according to the district. But a community group dedicated to improving the school disputed that finding and said students are at risk.

A group of mainly alumni dubbed the New McClymonds Committee called the district's assessment a lie, saying the district discovered high levels of lead a year ago and hasn't done enough.

"They have signs over there saying the water is safe, but it is not safe," Ben Tapscott said. "And the fact that they want to put in a new sink and a new faucet without going to a clear water source is ridiculous."

The district said it did take action last year by shutting down showers, a short-term, financially realistic move.

"Long term, we're going to be replacing all the shower heads and remove the lead threat in that water," district spokesman John Sasaki said. "That will do that because we know it is not in the piping system. It is in the actual shower heads like it was in the faucets."

The fixtures at the football field and in the kitchen have been replaced, and the district said subsequent testing of the water in those locations showed lead is no longer a problem. New locker room shower heads are on order.

The district said it will make its test results available as soon as possible.

District officials acknowledged that McClymonds has old pipes, which at this stage of their lifespan can shed sediment and cause cloudy water to come from the fountains and faucets until the sediment clears.

The water is not a health threat, the district said, but it plans to install filters on all water fountains in the school. In the meantime, the school district has installed 11 water dispensers around campus, including in the cafeteria, and students will not be able to drink from the fountains for the time being.

Staff has also installed filters on the new kitchen faucets to ensure that water used in the cafeteria is not only safe but entirely clear, according to the district.

"We know this has been a challenging situation for the McClymonds community," Superintendent Kyla Johnson-Trammell said in a statement. "We want everyone to know we share their concerns and want nothing but the best for our young people and our staff."

Bay City News contributed to this report.

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