MNPS Ignored Some High Lead Results, Kept Parents In Dark

NASHVILLE, Tenn. - A continuing NewsChannel 5 investigation raises the question: Did Metro Schools ignore evidence that children were being exposed to dangerous amounts of lead in their drinking water?

This follows a report that first revealed the results of tests conducted last summer and fall.

"The issues that we've found, we've eliminated at this point in time," said Dennis Neal, the district's executive director of facility and grounds maintenance.

He was addressing an internal study -- first obtained by NewsChannel 5 Investigates -- that found dangerous amounts of lead in drinking water in some of the district's oldest buildings.

Any fixtures that tested high for lead, Neal said, were taken offline.

"We've totally disconnected those and eliminated them from the system. That's why I'm confident of where we are," he added.

But what Neal didn't tell us was that the district did nothing if a second or third lead test came up with a better result.

Click below to review summary data from each school

Click here to view the raw data for each school

At the Academy at Old Cockrill, one water fountain tested at 32 parts per billion -- that's more than twice the EPA's so-called action level.

A second test two months later was still high at almost 24 parts.

But a third test a month later was less than one part -- so the district says there was "no action required."

"The nature of testing for lead is very hit or miss," said John Rumpler, with the group Environment America. He is the author of a recent report urging school systems to get the lead out of their water supplies.

Rumpler said Metro's approach shows a fundamental misunderstanding of how to test for lead in water.

"The nature of lead corrosion is that it's highly variable." he explained. "You could test one tap two, three, five times, find no lead, and then -- boom -- get a huge spike."

A school district spokesperson said the first samples were taken in the summer when buildings don't get much use.

She said, "The protocol is to retest under normal use conditions. If the second test results were below the city's public water standard, no action was necessary."

Still, Metro school families were kept in the dark.

The first tests were conducted last June, and the internal report was finalized in November.

But the actual test results were never shared with parents.

NewsChannel 5 Investigates asked Neal, "Why were parents not told about these numbers?"

"Our analysis," he answered, "was not complete. We wanted to make sure that we worked through the process and had all good data."

"Were prinicipals told?"

"Yes, they were. There was ultimately notifications to our principals when we were confident of our data."

"Was that back in November?"

"It wasn't back in November because we were not ready to do that at that time."

"And when it was communicated to principals, were they given any specific instructions?"

"Not yet. We are not to that point. That will be, a point in time, we will."

In fact, we're told that at least some principals were not given a copy of that November report until district officials knew that we would be airing these stories.

Nashville pediatrician Dr. Mary Keown expressed dismay.

"As somebody who's had family in Metro Schools, we expect a better job done by our leadership."

She added that, when it comes to lead in school water, parents had a right to know what the school system knew.

"I'm probably going to recommend that parents look up this report as soon as it becomes available," Keown said.

"And I'm also going to recommend that perhaps we're going to be writing a lot of notes for kids to bring their own bottle water from home."

The first round of tests focused on buildings constructed up to 1955.

Metro Schools is now testing buildings from 1956 to 1988.

Special Section:
NC5 Investigates: Lead in School Water

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