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Elevated lead levels found in some school, day care drinking fountains

YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan — With the beginning of school right around the corner, the Navy was forced to shut off several water fountains and faucets at base schools and day care centers in Japan after finding elevated lead levels, officials said Friday.

A preliminary test of nearly 4,000 water sources found that about 5 percent tested above the base standard of 20 parts of lead per billion, but levels are still relatively low, said Lt. Cmdr. Ron Flanders, Commander Naval Forces Japan spokesman.

Exact lead levels at the affected locations were unavailable Friday afternoon.

“We are very confident that nobody was placed at risk,” Flanders said. “We are being very cautious to ensure that the water in the schools and in the child development centers continues to be safe.”

The elevated levels were likely due to a buildup in lead from pipes that weren’t being used during summer, Flanders said.

Each of the affected water sources will be shut off when the school year begins Monday.

Water samples were taken at Yokosuka Naval Base, the Ikego and Negishi housing areas, Sasebo Naval Base, Naval Air Facility Atsugi and Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni. Base facilities workers found 95 faucets, 29 water fountains and two water coolers that exceeded standards.

At Ikego Elementary School, workers found 22 faucets, six water fountains and one water cooler exceeding standards.

Facilities workers will retest each of the affected sources for lead and attempt to isolate corroding pipes that may be responsible for the contamination.

Japanese standards call for mitigation efforts at a lead level of 10 parts per billion, according to a 2012 report from Japan’s environment ministry.

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency guidelines are less clear. Parts of its website list the standard for action to be taken at 15 parts per billion, while others list 20 parts per billion as the recommended action level. http://water.epa.gov/drink/info/lead/testing.cfm

The EPA says that 15 parts per billion “is the lowest level to which water systems can reasonably be required to control this contaminant should it occur in drinking water at their customers’ home taps.”

More information on lead in drinking water is also available at the World Health Organization website.

slavin.erik@stripes.com
Twitter: @eslavin_stripes

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