- Associated Press - Saturday, April 9, 2016

ST. LOUIS (AP) - Tap water is mostly off limits at the Head Start daycare center in the southern Missouri town of Ava.

The center’s cook, Sandra Porter, avoids the faucet when rinsing potatoes, preparing macaroni and performing other kitchen chores as she prepares meals for the nearly five dozen 3- and 4-year-olds. That’s because the well that serves the daycare has reported some of the highest water lead levels in the state over the past six years, according to an Associated Press analysis.

The Missouri Department of Natural Resources has been working with the daycare to find a solution, but for now, the center goes through gallons and gallons of bottled water. It’s a necessary precaution in a daycare: Even low levels have been shown to affect children’s intelligence, the ability to pay attention and academic achievement.

“Our kids have always used bottled water,” Porter, who serves as both cook and water coordinator at the daycare, said. “They have never drunk the (tap) water. I use bottled water when I cook and to wash the fruits and vegetables.”

The Associated Press analyzed lead sampling results from the Environmental Protection Agency’s Safe Drinking Water Information System. The AP looked at 25 years of data from about 75,000 drinking water systems that are subject to the lead rule that went into effect in 1991, which calls for water systems to keep lead levels below 15 parts per billion.



The analysis found that nearly 1,400 water systems serving 3.7 million Americans have violated the federal lead standard at least once since Jan. 1, 2013. Among the violators are 278 systems that exclusively serve schools and daycares in nearly every state, some of which reported lead levels among the highest in the nation.

Fourteen water systems in Missouri were among those with high lead samples, according to the analysis. All 14 serve small populations and get their water through private wells. Only one public system, in the small western Missouri town of Waverly, is on the list.

Missouri was the global leader in lead production in the late 19th and early 20th century. The agency website says that even today, some of the largest remaining lead deposits are still beneath the ground in southern and eastern Missouri. But the connection with water is unclear. Messages left with state agency officials were not immediately returned.

The Head Start center in Ava, a town of 3,000 residents 55 miles southeast of Springfield, gets its water from a private well drilled on the property when the center opened six years ago. Sampling has found alarmingly high lead levels at the daycare - five of the 10 highest in Missouri from 2012 to 2015. One 2014 test revealed lead levels more than four times the federal standard.

Natural resources agency officials have told the daycare that they’re working on a solution, but there is no timetable for it, Porter said. In the meantime, tap water is for hand-washing and other non-ingestion uses only.

“Some days I go through several gallons to cook with, and they go through these big 5-gallon jugs (for drinking water) every couple of weeks,” Porter said.

Parents are aware of the high lead levels, and they’re aware of the precautions taken to protect their kids, Porter said. She said none have complained or expressed concern.

The analysis also showed one high lead sample at Six Flags St. Louis, a reading of 112.0 parts per billion in 2014. The water was fed only to two older water fountains that weren’t accessible to guests, and when the water failed to meet EPA standards, the fountains were removed, according to Six Flags spokeswoman Elizabeth Gotway.

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