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Blount County Schools reports elevated lead levels in some of its schools

The school district did not said how many schools were affected or which schools, but said it promptly notified parents.

BLOUNT COUNTY, Tenn. — Blount County Schools said it found lead levels higher than federal standards in drinking water sources at some schools in the district. They did not specify which schools had lead issues.

District spokesperson Amanda Vance said the district drew samples during spring break in 2022. She said the district received results, and immediately removed "non-compliant water sources" from service until they could test it further. 

"The water sources are water fountains and sinks that have the potential to be used for consumption," Vance said in an email, referring to the sources the district tested. 

Blount County is not the only school district affected by elevated levels of lead. In 2019, both Knox and Sevier County Schools reported elevated levels of lead in some schools in their districts. 

Statewide, the Tennessee Department of Health said 53 school districts have reported lead concentrations in at least one fixture as high or higher than the federal limit, 15 parts per billion. That equates to 36% of the school districts in the state. 

"All local boards of education have a policy to implement a program to reduce the potential sources of lead contamination in drinking water in schools," said Bill Christian in an email, the Associate Director of Communications for the Tennessee Department of Health. "The policy must require periodic testing of lead levels." 

Dr. Qiang He, an environmental engineering professor at the University of Tennessee said even though the federal guidelines are 15 ppb, schools should aim for no lead in their water sources. 

"Lead is no good, no matter what," Dr. He said. "Take those out of the system and don't let students get exposed to it." 

Dr. He said the only way to know if students are exposed to high amounts of lead is to get a blood test. Lead exposure has been linked to damage to the brain and nervous system. It has also been shown to slow growth and development and can lead to learning problems, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

High amounts of lead in Blount County Schools were first reported by the Maryville Daily Times. 

   

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