Lead levels in water at Healdsburg Elementary School now below federal limit

The Sonoma County Health Department says test results it received Thursday show the water at Healdsburg Elementary School is safe to drink, but the school district says it will not allow the water fountains to be turned back on until the pipes are replaced.

Students are only drinking bottled water these days.

The school's five water fountains have been shut off since November over concerns the water may have had high levels of lead.

The problem began when a teacher was filling a container at one of the fountains looked cloudy, according to Chris Vanden Heuvel, superintendent of the Healdsburg Unified School District.

The district shut down the fountains, brought in bottled water and hired an expert  to run tests.

One test showed 59 times the level of lead allowable by the environmental protection agency, bringing concerns from parents.

"Would I be happy my kids were drinking lead? Not necessarily. But I do feel the school took the right precautions," said Kim Remillard.

But those initial tests are being called into question.

The Sonoma County Health Department ran its own tests and got far different results.

"Our results show that the lead levels are significantly below EPA [Environmental Protection Agency] levels," said health officer Karen Milman from the Sonoma County Health Department.

Why the discrepancy?

"I can't tell you why the difference in the values," answered Milman.  "It's really important to have a specific methodology or the time of day you are doing the tests and how you manage the samples."

Despite the all-clear sign from the health department,the school plans to use bottled water until this summer, when the pipes are expected to be replaced.

"Right now we have safe drinking water in there if we turned it back on. But who knows in two or three years how much will be leaching. So we are going to take care of it right now," said Vanden Heuvel.