GFPS working to replace, fix faucets, sinks where lead detected under new state rule

Great Falls Public Schools has been testing sinks and fountains for lead under a new rule from the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services.

The rule was created in January 2020 and requires schools to check at least every three years for lead in the water of any sink or fountain used for drinking or food prep.

Schools’ initial deadline to get that done was Dec. 31, 2021.

Under the rule, any faucet whose water has a lead concentration of five parts per billion or higher must be fixed or routinely flushed. Fixtures that test higher than 15 ppb must immediately be shut off.

According to Brian Patrick, business operations manager for GFPS, all district buildings have been tested and there was no cost to the district for the initial testing as it was covered by DPHHS.

Some fountains in district buildings tested above the thresholds set by the rule and were immediately taken out of service, Patrick told The Electric. The test results are posted to the GFPS website.

He said the district has been in the process of changing out fountains and putting filters on them or taking them out of service completely.

The goal, Patrick said, is to have tll school fountains test in the blue category when school starts in the fall.

“I am confident that we will meet that goal,” Patrick said. “Long term, the fix is expensive. My understanding is the Legislature will be discussing this issue during the next session.”

The district also applied for a $1,000 grant from the Montana Office of Public Instruction per school to help with the remediation effort, Patrick said.

The City of Great Falls is also prepping to comply with new rule from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency pertaining to lead and copper in drinking water lines.

The city maintains an inventory of water service line material types for residences and businesses within the city limits.

Currently, there are 7,000 to 8,000 addresses in the city with an unknown pipe material, according to the city.

The new EPA rule requires the city to identify and inventory the locations of lead and galvanized steel service lines within the city limits.

City prepping for new EPA rules on lead in public water systems

In July, the city will send letters to those property owners with instructions for locating the water service line as it enters the residence, performing a test to identify the line material type and providing that information back to the city.

The information will then be reported to the Montana Department of Environmental Quality.

The new federal regulations pertaining to lead levels in public drinking water are set to go into effect October 2024.

The rules will lower the amount of detectable lead in the water that triggers treatment actions and data reporting, with the potential for significant cost to the City of Great Falls.

The new rules are from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and city officials said the revision for stricter compliance was triggered by the 2014 Flint, Mich. water crisis in which public water supplies were contaminated with lead.