Every three years, the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services tests the drinking water in Missoula County Public Schools through the Department of Environmental Quality.

This year, according to MCPS Public Information Officer Tyler Christensen, unacceptable levels of lead were found in certain public schools.

“Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services created a new rule a couple of years ago, and that rule requires all public schools to test for lead at least every three years,” said Christensen. “It covers all water stations that could be used for human consumption. So that's drinking fountains and faucets in classrooms that were tested as well. What we saw when they started getting the returns back for those was that quite a number of our schools had higher levels of lead than what we'd expected to see.”

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Christensen explained what steps were taken when unacceptable levels of lead were confirmed in some MCPS schools.

“The first step we took was to immediately shut down all water stations that tested for higher levels of lead,” she said. “Those will remain closed while we flush the systems and replace fixtures as needed. Once those are replaced, then we can retest and see if it's the fixture itself or if there's a problem in the water line or the water system that needs a deeper look at and we'll just continue to attempts to locate the source of the contamination, then remediate and retest until those stations are safe to reopen.”

Christensen said even some of the newer and remodeled schools tested positive for unacceptable levels of lead.

“Willard and Franklin both had 100% testing results that were low, so those weren't a concern and those are newer schools,” she said. “We were a little surprised at some of the schools that had recent construction or that were new did have some water stations that had higher levels. That was not something we expected to see, so those schools were definitely taking a look at what the source of lead may be.”

Christensen said every neighborhood in Missoula may contain homes and businesses with higher concentrations of lead in their drinking water.

“In Missoula, we have quite a few older residences and there may be some people who have lead in their water in their homes as well,” she said. “I know that the Missoula County City Health Department has a program that's aimed at helping homeowners test and find out more information about that as well.”

Click here to see where the levels of lead were highest in MCPS schools.

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