Highland Park Testing Water in Schools, Police Departments, other City-owned Buildings

Above, the City of Highland Park has begun testing all drinking fountains this week. – Hawsco.com

‘Precautionary action to reassure public of the safety of water’

by Tina Johansson

In light of national events that have brought increased concern about drinking water quality, the City of Highland Park has partnered with North Shore School District 112, Township High School District 113, the Park District of Highland Park and the Highland Park Library to take additional precautionary measures to ensure the safety of the delivery of our water by testing all water fountains and drinking water faucets.

While there has been no indication that any lead is present in the water at any facilities, all entities agree transparency and public safety are paramount and testing is critical. This action exceeds Illinois water testing requirements.

While Highland Park water meets or exceeds state and national standards, I requested this collaborative effort as a proactive step to protect the health and safety of our residents. – Highland Park Mayor Nancy Rotering

Highland Park has volunteered its staff resources to collect water samples at all city, school district facilities, park properties and the library. The water samples will be taken to a certified laboratory and tested for lead.  Testing is the best way for public organizations to know if there are elevated levels of lead in the drinking water and to quickly eliminate any potential problems.

“While Highland Park water meets or exceeds state and national standards, I requested this collaborative effort as a proactive step to protect the health and safety of our residents. It also sets a high standard for others who provide water to the public,” said Mayor Nancy Rotering. “Our children spend significant time in our schools and at Park District facilities, getting much of their water from fountains in those buildings. We also know that children and seniors are at greater risk for serious health impacts if they are exposed to lead. Ensuring that the delivery of water to residents is safe to drink is a fundamental responsibility.”

There is currently no federal or state law requiring the testing of drinking water in public facilities such as schools, park districts, and municipal buildings. The City of Highland Park complies with sampling regulations that are directed towards single-family dwellings. Highland Park, the North Shore School District, Township High School District, the park district and the library will follow the US Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) 3Ts (Training, Testing, and Telling) to manage any health risks of lead in drinking water.

“The safety of our students, staff and visitors to our buildings is of the utmost importance to District 113, and we were already taking steps to have the drinking water at all of our facilities tested upon the completion of construction at our high schools this summer. We are pleased to be moving forward with this important endeavor in partnership with the City, District 112, and the Park District of Highland Park,” said Christopher Dignam, superintendent of Dist. 113.

Liza McElroy, executive director for the City of Highland Park, echoed the sentiment. “The health and safety of our residents at our facilities and parks is a top priority for the park district,” she said. “We are pleased to partner with our fellow local agencies on this important water testing project.”

Michael Bregy, superintendent for the North Shore School District, applauded Mayor Rotering for taking steps to ensure healthy drinking water. “At NSSD 112, the safety and well-being of our students is paramount and is our top priority when creating a welcoming and effective learning environment,” he said.

Test results will take approximately two weeks to complete, according to officials. Resulets will be posted on respective web sites as they become available. By commencing the process this month, the government partners can use summer break to develop a contingency plan if sample results exceed threshold limits.

Following is a list of Questions and Answers provided by the City of Highland Park. Additional information can be found on the Highland Park lead information website page.   Questions can be directed to Water Plant Superintendent Don Jensen at djensen@cityhpil.com or 847.433.4355.

What facilities are being tested?

  • City Facilities:

City Hall

Fire Station – Central Ave 

Fire Station – Half Day Road

Fire Station – Ravinia

Police Department

Public Services Building

Senior Center 

Youth Services Facilities 

  • All District 112 schools and Administration and Maintenance Facilities
  • District 113 High Schools, both Highland

Park and Deerfield, and Administration and

Maintenance Facilities

  • Park District of Highland Park Facilities:

Centennial Ice Arena

Deer Creek Racquet Club

Heller Nature Center

Hidden Creek AquaPark

Highland Park Country Club

Recreation Center of Highland Park

Rosewood Beach

Sunset Valley Golf Course West Ridge Center and other public parks

  • Highland Park Library

When will the testing begin?

Sample collection will begin the week of  July 11. The testing of all government facilities could take up to 4 weeks.  The City will coordinate with government partners on sampling locations.

 When will the results of the collaborative water testing be available to the public?

The test results take approximately two weeks to complete. The results will be shared with the respective government partners.

What are the collection procedures for drinking water testing? 

The City’s Water Plant staff will collect the water samples and transport them to a certified laboratory to be analyzed for lead. The certified laboratory will submit the test results to each governmental entity responsible for their facilities. 

 What are some common problems found when testing?

In general, you may find a presence of lead in drinking water when:

  • Lead pipes are used throughout the facility
  • Sediment or scale in the plumbing and faucet screens contain lead
  • Brass fittings, faucets, and valves were installed throughout the building less than five years ago (even though they may contain less than the “lead-free” requirements of the

Safe Drinking Water Act)

In general, you may find localized presence of lead if:

  • Some brass fittings, faucets, and valves have been installed in the last five years (even though they may meet the SDWA “lead-free” requirement)
  • Drinking water outlets are in line with brass flush valves, such as drinking water fountains near restroom supply piping
  • Lead pipes are used in some locations
  • Lead solder joints were installed in short sections of pipe before 1986 or were illegally installed after 1988 (i.e., after the lead-free requirements of the Safe Drinking Water Act took effect)
  • There are areas in the building’s plumbing with low flow or infrequent use
  • Sediment in the plumbing and screens frequently contains lead
  • Some water coolers or other outlets have components that are not lead-free, especially if the water is corrosive

 What are the benefits of testing for lead?

  • Protecting the health and well-being of residents and visitors
  • Raising awareness of potential problems, causes and health effects of lead in drinking water
  • Setting a high-standard for other communities to follow 
  • Peace of mind for the community 

 What will the organizations do if elevated levels of lead are found? 

Solutions to lead problems typically need to be made on an interim (short-term) and on a permanent basis. Interim measures can be taken until a permanent solution has been put in place. In addition, there are routine measures that would be taken. The organization would work closely with maintenance staff and any plumbers making repairs. 

Several routine control measures that could be taken include:

  • Creating aerator (screen) cleaning maintenance schedule and cleaning debris from all accessible aerators frequently
  • Using only cold water for food and beverage preparation
  • Instructing the users (students and staff) to run the water before drinking 

Short-term control measures include:

  • “Flushing” the piping system in the building
  • Providing bottled water 
  • Shutting off problem outlets

Organizations can take a number of steps to reduce or eliminate the sources of lead that originate in the facilities’ plumbing. After obtaining an evaluation of the water supply, if lead if present the organization will take steps to fix the situation.

What are the health effects of lead exposure?

Lead is a toxic metal that is harmful to human health. Young children are at particular risk for lead exposure. Children’s nervous systems are still undergoing development and thus are more susceptible to the effects of toxic agents. Lead is also harmful to the developing fetuses of pregnant women.

The degree of harm from lead exposure depends on a number of factors including the frequency, duration, and dose of the exposure(s) and individual susceptibility factors (e.g., age, previous exposure history, nutrition, and health). 

 How does lead get into drinking water?

Even though the drinking water supplied by the City of Highland Park is lead free, facilities may have elevated lead levels due to plumbing fixtures and water use patterns. 

Additional information can be found on City’s website under Public Works Water Production lead information website page.

How is lead in drinking water currently regulated?

Lead is regulated in public drinking water supplies under a federal law known as the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA). This Act was initially passed in 1974 and, in part, requires EPA to establish regulations for known or potential contaminants in drinking water for the purpose of protecting public health.

Can I have my property tested?

Residents can have the water in your home tested for lead.  The City of Highland Park Water Treatment Plant laboratory is not certified for metals analysis.  Please see the link of accredited labs for lead testing for a list of laboratories that can test residential water samples. Please follow the sampling procedure as noted in IEPA guidelines.

How can I reduce exposure to lead in the tap water?

To reduce exposure to lead in the tap water, always use cold water from the tap for drinking, cooking, and making baby formula, as hot water is more likely to contain lead. Boiling water does not remove lead. If water has not been run for more than 6 hours, flush your water system. This can be done by running the tap for a minimum of 5 minutes, flushing the toilet, taking a shower, or doing laundry. You may consider purchasing and installing a filter that is certified to remove lead. And also considering hiring a Licensed Certified Plumber to evaluate the faucets, fittings, and pipes.

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