School District Response to Water Quality Allegations
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February 16, 2022
Dear School District of Philadelphia Families and Staff,
Earlier today, a local organization issued a report alleging unacceptable levels of lead in drinking water in our schools and buildings. This letter is to inform you that the data and findings in this report are not an accurate reflection of the water quality that students and staff are accessing each and every day.
We are fully committed to supporting clean, safe, and welcoming learning environments for every student and staff member – and that includes providing access to drinking water that meets the City of Philadelphia’s rigorous lead-in-water regulations, and proactively preventing access to any drinking water in any District-owned building that does not meet City of Philadelphia standards.
We have an ongoing and comprehensive safe water testing program that launched in 2016. All 269 District buildings were sampled once through 2017 and the second cycle of sampling began in April 2019, with completion planned for April 2023, which is in alignment with the City’s five-year cycle requirements. During the COVID-19 pandemic, we needed to pause sampling when school buildings were closed to in-person learning because the lack of water movement in our buildings would have created sample results inconsistent with regular water use; and would have failed to capture accurate sampling results. We resumed testing in occupied school buildings during hybrid learning starting in April 2021, focusing first on elementary schools. We are still in the five-year cycle requirement and will continue inspecting and sampling water in every District building, including offices and schools.
In the event that a water outlet tests at or above 10 parts per billion (PPB) – the City of Philadelphia’s required threshold for school drinking water, which is significantly more strict than the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) threshold of 20 ppb – the water outlet is immediately shut down. The District closes these outlets, both because it is required under City and EPA regulations, and to prevent students or staff from using or ingesting contaminated water.
The PennPIRG report is misleading. First, they use 1 ppb as the threshold, instead of 10 pbb, the City threshold. The report also calls for the increased use of hydration stations but fails to acknowledge the current use of hydration stations in the same schools highlighted in their report. The District aims to have a minimum of one filtered hydration station per 100 students, per floor in its 269 District-owned school buildings. More than 1,320 hydration stations have been installed to date, and more are being installed as we receive them. These purified drinking sources are tested and have consistently shown lead levels that are safer than those required by City regulations.
We are deeply disappointed by PennPIRG’s mischaracterization of water quality in our District buildings. We want to stress that the health and safety of our students and staff is our top priority and we will continue to provide updates on this important work. Thank you for your patience, understanding, and continued partnership.
Chief Operating Officer