The Shelby County Commission on Monday approved $80,000 to go towards on-site testing at dozens of Shelby County Schools system sites where there has been detection of potentially dangerous amounts of lead.
The funds will be transferred to the Shelby County Health Department to test 19,000 students attending the 35 schools where the excessive amounts of lead were found.
The commission’s move comes on the heels of health department officials’ recent announcement that they would like to begin reaching out to the affected schools to test students on-site who may have come in contact with the water. They estimated the cost of testing to total the $80,000 approved by the commission.
Alisa Haushalter, Shelby County Health Department director, has said that the risk of students being affected is minimal, but they don’t want to take any chances.
Earlier this month, SCS voluntarily tested 3,500 water sources and found 35 schools with lead levels above the regulations set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
SCS Supt. Joris Ray noted that ‘the water is fine’ after the drinking water sources that tested positive for lead were immediately taken out of service following the results. Additionally, SCS teamed up with the Health Department to offer free off-site testing; but commissioners said they want to ensure that testing is easily accessible to families.
“Let’s go ahead and start testing students on site. Because if you test them off site, they’re not going to come,” Commissioner Edmund Ford Jr said. He co-sponsored the bill along with Commissioner Amber Mills.
Parents who attended the county commission meeting advocated for onsite testing, noting that many of them don’t have the time or resources to travel outside of schools.
Officials said the testing could begin as early as next week and is usually simple, requiring only a prick of the finger. However, because of the number of students impacted, Haushalter said the department will have to check its staffing model to determine if more nurses are needed to service the schools.
Forty-five days after testing begins, the commission will revisit the budget to see if more funds are needed. If so, they may ask for help from the state.
In related action on Monday, the County Commission also passed an additional resolution asking Governor Bill Lee and the state for additional funding, if needed.
“If we’re showing that we are going to put some of our funds together to test the kids, I know there’s money at the state, so we can look at this in a longer perspective instead of testing one time,” Ford said.
Commissioner Van Turner proposed taking it a step further, asking SCS to also test the pipes.
“If you take the water fountain out and put a new water fountain in and the pipes are questionable, there still can be issues,” he said.
While testing for lead was the main topic of discussion during the meeting, the commission also approved another public safety resolution allotting $1.6 million to be included in the fiscal 2020 budget to place 25 security cameras in the 13 commission districts.
The money will be awarded in the form of a grant to the law enforcement agencies operating within the districts.