Cashmere School District held a community meeting for parents Wednesday, to discuss high lead levels found in the district's drinking water.

On March 29, Superintendent Glenn Johnson brought in the following guest speakers for this community meeting:

  • Environmental Lead Exposure Prevention Program Manager Theresa Sanders from the Washington State Department of Health (DOH).
  • Chemical Water Quality Monitoring Program Manager Stan Hoffman from the Washington State Department of Health (DOH).
  • Chelan-Douglas Health District’s (CDHD) Environmental Health Director Robert Eastman.
  • Chelan-Douglas Health District’s (CDHD) Food Safety Specialist Suzy Howard.
  • City of Cashmere Mayor Jim Fletcher
  • City of Cashmere Operations Manager Steve Croci
  • City of Cashmere Council Member Chris Carlson
  • Cashmere School Board Chairman Ted Snodgrass 
  • Cashmere School Board Member Aaron Bessonette
  • Cashmere School District Maintenance Supervisor Larry Rose.
  • Fulcrum Environmental Consulting President Peggy Williamson.
  • Construction Consultant Don Kirby, who helped build some of the district’s buildings back in 1991.

Johnson said the district opted out of DOH's voluntary testing program back in 2018-19, stating that they were going to test in the near future.

DOH representative Theresa Sanders shared that the voluntary testing phase back in 2018 did not provide funding or remedial funds for testing, which resulted in many districts opting not to test.

Since 2021, the DOH is required to test all public school water systems for lead every five years, particularly for plumbing built or replaced before 2016. The DOH also provided grants for districts to undergo mandatory testing.

In the Fall of 2022, the district contacted the DOH to sign up for testing, which occurred on Jan. 18-19.

In February, the district received their testing results and found high concentrations of lead in drinking water fixtures found in Vale Elementary, Cashmere Middle School, and Cashmere High School.

Fixtures found with lead levels above 5 ppb were considered unsafe and were discontinued immediately.

Some of the highest readings were found in Vale Elementary, with a handwashing/prep sink reaching up to 76.2 ppb, and a steam kettle reaching up to 119 ppb.

Johnson said that they will spend approximately $800 to replace all of the affected fixtures and retest with Fulcrum Environmental Consulting.

According to conversation with health officials from both the DOH and CDHD, Johnson said these test results are not unusual and are on par with other school districts that were recently tested.

Fulcrum Environmental Consulting President Peggy Williamson used a chocolate chip cookie metaphor to illustrate how they test for lead exposure, stating that lead concentrations vary based on environmental factors, manufactured products bought internationally, and the level of lead found in still water.

“Going back to chocolate chip cookies, sometimes it's high, sometimes it's not so high, and there's going to be variability and that's sometimes the interesting thing, but it's also sometimes the confusing thing about science,” Williamson said.

Sanders said that the Cashmere School District is taking part in a century-long effort to reduce lead exposure and that the district is going above and beyond in addressing health concerns.

“From a public health perspective, the best we could hope for is for a school district to be that involved and that active, you have great facilities and maintenance staff, and I’m so heartened to see that survive the pandemic,” Sanders said.

For parents who are concerned about lead exposure, Sanders said they can try running the water for a few minutes before drinking from it, and to check for lead paint if they are living in an older home.

Young children are the most at-risk for lead exposure, who absorb more lead and are more sensitive to harmful effects compared to adults.

Side effects of lead exposure include lower IQ levels, lower attention spans, hyperactivity, increased fatigue, or other side effects that could impact childhood development.

Sanders said side effects can be reduced if a child is in a socially rich environment and consumes a healthy dose of iron, calcium and vitamin C.

City of Cashmere Operations Manager Steve Croci shared that the city tests their water distribution system and that whenever a higher than normal lead concentration pops up, it is usually coming from residential piping rather than the city’s water source.

“All the data that we have doesn't indicate that we have a source issue,” Croci said.

Croci also shared that the city is looking for grants to help assess water main lines built before 1986.

One parent asked why school drinking water is tested every five years, rather than annually. 

Williamson said that these changes occur over a long period of time and that five years is a reasonable amount of time to see a measurable difference.

Cashmere School District’s School Remediation Action Plan is scheduled to be finalized within the next six months.

Anyone experiencing lead exposure symptoms should contact their local healthcare provider.

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