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MAP helps Tribal Schools become Compliant with the Lead and Copper Rule

February 28, 2011 |
Leech Lake Band of Chippewa’s Bug-o-Nay-Ge-Shig K-12 School near Bena, MN.
Ongoing lead level’s exceeding the maximum contaminant level in the school’s non-community drinking water system.
Midwest Assistance Program helped the water operator and tribal sanitarian establish, implement, and monitor a Corrosion Control Plan to keep the lead levels within acceptable and safe levels for the school.
Bug-o-Nay-Ge-Shig school is located in a rural northern Minnesota forest near the south shore of the state’s famous Lake Winnebigoshish near Bena. The school teaches kindergarten through 12th grade and has a campus including an elementary-middle school (combined), high school, gymnasium, several out buildings and a bus garage with an average enrollment of 280 students plus school staff. The maintenance staff at the school includes two state certified water operators who are responsible for the non-community drinking water system.
Midwest Assistance Program (MAP) had been working with the school’s water operators under contract with the United States Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA) to provide technical assistance and training to tribal water operators and staff in all the Minnesota tribes. MAP was notified by EPA and requested by the Leech Lake Tribal Sanitarian to work at helping them resolve the Lead Exceedance Problem that was occurring there.
Lead in drinking water can also cause a variety of adverse health effects. In babies and children, exposure to lead in drinking water above the action level can result in delays in physical and mental development, along with slight deficits in attention span and learning abilities. In adults, it can cause increases in blood pressure. Adults who drink this water over many years could develop kidney problems or high blood pressure.
Lead is rarely found in source water, but enters tap water through corrosion of plumbing materials. Homes built before 1986 are more likely to have lead pipes, fixtures and solder.
However, new homes are also at risk because even legally “lead-free” plumbing may contain up to 8 percent lead. The most common problem is with brass or chrome-plated brass faucets and fixtures which can leach significant amounts of lead into the water.**information extracted from EPA’s website**
It was revealed that the school had sampled water in 2008 and tests showed the levels were over twice the EPA action levels of 0.015 mg/l for lead. Throughout that year, the school provided alternative drinking sources (bottled water) and adjusted cooking practices in the kitchen as well. Ongoing sampling and monitoring in late 2008 showed elevated levels almost 3 times the previous exceedances. Initially MAP and EPA were in communication with school staff on how to best lower levels. The first steps were to isolate and remove problem taps where the elevated lead levels were occurring thinking it may be a site specific plumbing or fixture problem.
When that didn’t help and other sample sites were producing elevated lead levels also, MAP was then requested to help work with the staff to complete a Corrosion Control Plan (CCP) which would fully assess the water’s physical and chemical characteristics and analyze how best to treat it and lower the lead levels. Upon developing the plan and getting the school staff and sanitarian to endorse and learn it, MAP encouraged communication with their chemical delivery company to allow the staff the proper set up and instruction to add an Ortho-Polyphosphate blend. The compound basically allows for light coating to line the interior of the pipes and fixtures eliminating leaching or aggressive action on it’s surfaces and creating a barrier between the lead and drinking water.
Continued maintenance and monitoring should ensure that the school’s lead levels remain at an acceptable and safe level according to EPA standards as long as the CCP is followed. December 2010 samples revealed test levels were all within acceptable standards. Ongoing MAP assistance at the schools will involve helping the staff maintain, monitor, and also inform the staff and public (parents) on the current status of the water and why it is a safe drinking water source again for their families.