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Ongoing lead, Legionella water issues in schools

By Lisa Brody


As students return to full in-person instruction, many Birmingham Public Schools continue to be plagued by locations where legionella has been found, as well as lead and copper, with remediation continuing in all affected buildings.


Reports have come in from Greenfield, Quarton, Beverly, Pierce, Harlan and West Maple elementary schools, Berkshire Middle School, and Seaholm and Grove high schools, indicating that while there have been improvements in the water quality at the schools since they were last tested last fall, continued remediation is still needed to eliminate all legionella from school plumbing. There have not been updates Derby Middle Schools or Birmingham Covington School.


According to communications from the school, “BPS is focused on the remediation of legionella while providing a lead-free source of drinking water for all staff and students. BPS will shift to cold water flushes to reduce copper and lead in the system in the coming weeks. All individuals should use water from home or bottled water until water filter stations are enabled again.”


At Groves, while legionella was found at more than 220 locations at the school in the first round of testing, following remediation and retesting, there are currently 79 locations were it was found.


“We are installing legionella filters at the highest risk taps and continue to flush the building plumbing to prevent new contamination. The filters are already installed in many district buildings. Water use at these taps is safe. Students and staff can help maintain water quality in the buildings by continuing to use the water in school,” said Dr. Susan Smith, principal.


Seahom originally was found to have legionella at 98 locations during its original round of testing; there ar now 52 locations. “We are installing legionella filters at the highest risk taps and continue to flush the building plumbing to prevent new contamination. Filters have been installed in our locker room showers and in a couple of other locations, but installing the filters will be an ongoing process,” said Kyle Hall, principal.


Lead and copper were not detected at either high school.


At Berkshire Middle School, legionella was initially found at 51 locations; since remediation and retesting, it was found at 27 locations. There were no reports of lead or copper detection.


At the elementary schools, following remediation and retesting, Quarton currently has 15 locations were legionella was detected, at West Maple, there were 24 locations and Beverly had one location. Beverly also had six lead results and four copper results throughout the building, while Quarton and West Maple had none.


Legionella was not found at Pierce Elementary, nor was copper, although lead was found in a handwashing station.


No legionella was detected at Greenfield, either; there was one lead result and two results for copper. At Harlan, there was no detection of legionella although there were eight lead results and two copper results throughout the building.


According to the Michigan Lead and Copper Rule, safe levels of lead in water are being reduced from 15 parts per billion (ppb) to 12 ppb by January 1, 2025, and 1.3 mg per liter for copper.


Legionella bacteria can cause a serious type of pneumonia called Legionnaires' Disease, according to the CDC, as well as a less serious disease called Pontiac's Fever, which is a milder form of Legionnaires' Disease, and, more rarely, extrapulmonary infections, collectively known as legionellosis. People can get Legionnaires’ disease or Pontiac Fever when they breathe in small droplets of water in the air that contain legionella.

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