By Rick Sallinger

DENVER (CBS4)– There is spreading concern among parents across the country about the safety of the water their children drink in the school. That has spread to schools in Colorado.

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Brett Meeks is one of them.

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Brett Meeks (credit: CBS)

“There’s a lot of evidence that shows long term exposure to even small amounts of lead start to affect children’s behavior, attention, hyperactivity,” he said.

Denver Public Schools had its water fountains tested two years ago. The district has been replacing them and other fixtures where lead readings were above acceptable limits.

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Amy Duclos who has two children in the schools says she and other parents had to come up with a good portion of the money.

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“What they said to me is they considered the water to be safe in the buildings and that if we wanted filtered fountains, it’s our choice to proceed with filtered fountains,” said Duclos.

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Amy Duclos (credit: CBS)

But Denver Public Schools says it would never ask parents to raise money to repair pipes and drinking fountains.

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However, documents Duclos provided records for one school indicated DPS only covered some of the work.

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The problem is in what is called galvanized pipes. The water comes in clean but lead can attach to the surface and enter the drinking water.

Problems were found and dealt with in Jefferson County Schools in 2016.

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Now in Detroit, fountains are being shut down and being replaced for now with water stations.

The school district in Pueblo recently replaced 50 fountains in nine of its schools.

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The following is the response from Denver Public Schools to a series of questions posed to them:

According to 2016 water study of performed by Denver Water and Denver Public Schools, 64 schools contain high levels of lead from old, galvanized pipes.

Denver Public Schools and Denver Water partnered in a proactive effort to sample drinking water in all DPS buildings to ensure it met Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) guidelines for schools. Lead isn’t present in the water Denver Water sends to our schools, but lead can get into water as it moves through lead-containing plumbing and fixtures.

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On Aug. 23, 2016, we began our effort to sample the water throughout the district in drinking fountains, kitchen food prep sinks, lounge sinks and any other fixtures used for drinking water in all DPS schools. All sampling has been completed and we are working through needed repairs and replacements at schools. Results were provided to schools and posted online here as they became available.

No fixture remained in operation if the lead level was at or above 15 parts per billion. Remedies included fixture replacement, adding water filters and/or other plumbing projects. Although there may still be fixtures that are inoperable, all units will be repaired through the process.

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The district has put the repair responsibility with parents to raise funds to pay for safe, filtered water fountains for their children. Only affluent neighborhoods have a chance to raise the funds needed, leaving underprivileged neighborhoods with no chance of affordability.

That is incorrect. DPS takes matters of safety incredibly serious and would never ask parents to raise money to repair pipes and drinking fountains.

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Lead: Any drinking fountain that was found to have lead above the action level (15 ppb) was taken out of service and has been repaired or replaced. When possible, DPS install a filtered bottle fill/drinking fountain for schools in common areas. Bottle filling stations are considered upgrades from a typical fountain.

In the event, a school wants a bottle fill/drinking fountain, but their water does not indicate lead is an issue, schools have the option to acquire funds through alternative sources such as grants, etc.

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Galvanized piping: not related to lead. Galvanized piping replacement has been on the 2012 Bond as well as in the 2016 Bond. DPS is working through the schools to replace the piping. The schedule can be found at https://facilities.dpsk12.org/leadtesting/.

Often, the DPS approved contractor bid is extremely inflated making fundraising unattainable for some of these neighborhood schools. Yet, shouldn’t the tax payer money provide either pipe replacement or safe drinking fountains in every school in the district?

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DPS does provide pipe replacement and drinking fountains in every school in the district that meet the standards of Denver Water. We have replaced or filtered fountains that do not meet these standards.

We strive for equity in all our schools. Anywhere that lead has been found above the action level, DPS has taken the source out of service and initiated repairs.

DPS used $70,000,000.00 of bond money (duping taxpayers stating it would be for schools) to fund the purchase and renovation of its downtown Denver administration offices. There are 62 schools with galvanized pipes that the district claims it does not have the funding to create clean water (that is not brown) for our Denver Public School students.

DPS did not use $70M from the bond to pay for and renovate the Emily Griffith Campus where the administration offices are located.

The purchase and renovation was from several funding sources, primarily from the sale of the former administration building on 900 Grant. The total project amount was $60,282,926.34. The money was used to buy and refurbish the building for use by three different schools – Downtown Denver Expeditionary School, Emily Griffith High School, Emily Griffith Technical College – and administration offices.

The line items used from the bond came from the renovation budget for the old Emily Griffith Technical College facility on Glenarm. About $12M.

LINK: DPS Water Testing

CBS4’s Rick Sallinger is a Peabody award winning reporter who has been with the station more than two decades doing hard news and investigative reporting. Follow him on Twitter @ricksallinger.

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