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City to test repairs at school where lead was found in water

SAN DIEGO -- City of San Diego officials are scheduled Friday to test the water at Birney Elementary School in University Heights to determine if repairs successfully cleared contaminants from the plumbing system.

Birney is one of two San Diego Unified School District campuses where elevated levels of lead were discovered in the water.

Officials with the city's Public Utilities Department told the City Council's Environment Committee that while the city is testing for contaminants, school districts are responsible for making repairs.

"San Diego Unified has been working to fix this problem, and to our understanding, they have finished whatever work they're going to do (at Birney), and we're going back tomorrow to conduct follow-up testing,'' said Peter Vroom of the Public Utilities Department.

He said remediation efforts at the other site with excess lead, Emerson- Bandini Elementary/San Diego Cooperative Charter -- which share a campus in Southcrest -- proved successful.

The presence of contaminants has been a hot-button issue since elevated levels of lead, copper and bacteria were found in October in the water systems at three older campuses in the San Ysidro School District.

The problem at Emerson-Bandini was discovered when a dog refused to drink from a bowl of water, which prompted the San Diego Unified School District to request testing from the city.

According to Vroom, testing has been performed at 202 SDUSD campuses, with results in from 164, as of Wednesday night. Only the Emerson/SD Cooperative and Birney sites have had lead over the safe level set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, he said.

Testing of all sites should be completed by the end of next week, according to Vroom.

The State Water Resources Control Board allows districts to request testing from their water suppliers.

Besides the SDUSD, the Chula Elementary School District, Del Mar Union School District, High Tech High, Sweetwater Union High School District, South Bay Union School District and San Dieguito Union High School District have requested testing from the city. The districts each have a few schools in territory where the city provides water.

Public Utilities staff said San Ysidro is conducting its own testing. The Poway Unified School District has requested testing from some of its suppliers and is expected to contact the city of San Diego soon.

All told, that's around 250 campuses for the city of San Diego to test. According to staff, setting the testing program in motion cost $230,000 and required personnel to be shifted from different areas. Testing costs $2,200 per campus.

Talks are underway with the state regarding possible reimbursement.

PUD staff said more than 430 schools in San Diego County have requested testing from their water suppliers, about one-quarter of the statewide total. The lopsided amount likely stems from publicity from the San Ysidro results, staff said.