After therapy dog refuses to drink, San Diego Unified finds lead in water

As part of a nationwide day of action, San Diego Unified School District parents and educators had school walk-ins€ to reclaim their campuses from the dangers of overtesting. (John Gastaldo / San Diego Union-Tribune)
(John Gastaldo / San Diego Union-Tribune)

A dog’s reluctance to drink from a bowl in a San Diego classroom led to the discovery of lead in the school’s water system, and testing of all pipes in the San Diego Unified School District will begin soon.

According to a notice sent Friday to parents and staff members at Emerson-Bandini Elementary and San Diego Co-Operative Charter School 2, which share a single campus, a teacher at the charter school noticed her therapy dog would not drink from a bowl filled with water from the classroom sink on Jan. 26.

The teacher then saw a sheen on the water, which led to the district sampling numerous water outlets on the campus. After detecting contaminants that exceeded the state’s allowable level, the district contacted its water provider, the city of San Diego, which has agreed to test all district properties, including its 187 campuses, at no cost.


San Diego Unified Public Information Officer Andrew Sharp said that at the time of the lead discovery, the district already was in discussions with the city to test all water in its properties as part of a new program offered by the state.

San Diego Unified Chief Operations Officer Drew Rowlands announced that the tests will begin April 4 and be completed before the semester’s end in June.

Students at the two schools are receiving bottled drinking water until the issue is resolved, Sharp said.

The notice sent Friday to Emerson-Bandini staff and parents also stated that a consultant involved in the testing confirmed that the water was safe for hand washing. There should be no concerns about food, according to the notice, because all meals are prepared off campus.

The water testing in San Diego Unified will be conducted as part of an offer the state has made to all school districts.

“We are grateful to the city of San Diego for its partnership and cooperation on this vast undertaking,” Rowlands said Thursday. “The comprehensive effort will take multiple months to complete due to the relevant regulatory requirements.”

Testing will be done in early morning hours before the start of school, and up to five samples will be taken at each site. Samples will be taken at drinking fountains, cafeterias and food preparation areas.

“The safety and health of students and staff across San Diego Unified is the highest priority for the district,” Rowlands said.

Tests will involve a geographic approach, beginning at the southeast corner of the district where some of the oldest district schools are located. Five schools will be tested daily, and city officials will work their way north and west until all the testing is done.

If results indicate there is lead above allowable levels, district staff will determine the source of contamination and take appropriate action on a case-by-case basis, Rowlands said. Those steps could include turning off water, replacing fixtures and making plumbing repairs.

Warth writes for the San Diego Union-Tribune.


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