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Aggie Researcher studies lead in BCS parks, hopes research can help with lead monitoring efforts

Posted at 7:53 PM, Jun 25, 2021
and last updated 2021-06-25 20:53:57-04

BRYAN, TEXAS — A researcher with Texas A&M's School of Public Health analyzed lead contamination from drinking fountains in parks throughout Bryan and College Station.

Leanne Fawkes, the Aggie researcher, said there is no known safe level of lead.

"There are associated adverse health affects with lead and it's really important that children 5 years and younger not be exposed to lead," Leanne Fawkes, the researcher on this study and a graduate research assistant with Texas A&M's School of Public Health said.

Fawkes said lead is typically found in lead pipes and has potential health affects, which she said, can be long-term and multi-generational.

"It is something we want to be aware of everywhere, but particularly in venues where children are present," Fawkes said.

With her field kit last summer, Fawkes, a graduate research assistant for the Department of Environmental and Occupational Health with Texas A&M's School of Public Health, went out to test for lead.

"The good news is... the majority of the parks I tested we found 0 detectable levels of lead, however, in 20 percent of the parks there were detectable levels of lead," Fawkes shared on her findings.

The Aggie researcher studied water samples from 56 parks throughout the Bryan College Station community and found that 12 had lead levels of 2 micro-grams per liter or more. Even though the number, (2), is higher than the Environmental Protection Agency's goal of (0), the researchers findings derived from these parks, are well under the action level of 15 micro-grams per liter.

"We need to evaluate the infrastructure and we are looking forward to working with the City to go over the findings of this study," Fawkes said.

The study titled 'Preliminary Study of Lead-Contaminated Drinking Water in Public Parks—An Assessment of Equity and Exposure Risks in Two Texas Communities' has recently been published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health and reads in part:

"Safe drinking water is celebrated as a public health achievement and is a top priority for the Environmental Protection Agency. Yet today, lead (Pb) contaminated drinking water has the potential to be a public health crisis in the United States. Despite efforts to provide safe drinking water, update water infrastructure, and ensure strict drinking water regulations, there are incidents of unsafe lead levels and reports of associated adverse health effects. While there has been increased attention paid to the quality of drinking water within individuals’ homes, little research has examined the presence and concentration of lead in water from drinking fountain sources located in public parks."

Fawkes said this research can help serve the community and can also highlight infrastructure inequities.

"We found detectable lead levels in both Bryan and College Station," Fawkes said. "There is an association. Typically low-income or low socioeconomic neighborhoods experience a greater burden in terms of older infrastructure and equity. We definitely wanted to look at that to see if there was an association."

Fawkes said in College Station, the Park with the highest lead level was Creek View and in Bryan, was Sadie Thomas Park.

"I want to emphasize it is the older infrastructure within the drinking fountains themselves," Fawkes said.

"It may be okay for a healthy person within the limits of the EPA, I think, but I think if you are immuno-compromised or have an issue then you have to be even more careful," said Nadia Gajadher, a Friday Bryan Park visitor and Houston resident.

For these visitors enjoying a Bryan College Station park while waiting on their dog at the nearby vet hospital, say they not only think of themselves, but their pets, with any drinking water.

"It would stray me away," Gajadher said. "I would use it if I need to because it's once in a while.... but I am very sensitive to these things because my dog has cancer."

But for some BCS residents and avid park goers, they say it's not a whole lot they are worried about.

"I'd still drink it," park-goer and Bryan resident, Marvin Konecny said.

College Station resident Elizabeth Puller said hearing of detection makes her a little more cautious for her next trip to the fountain, but the findings do not necessarily steer her away from a refreshing sip.

"I probably would still drink it if I were thirsty enough," Puller said. "At this level, I am not extremely worried."

Fawkes said the EPA is revising their Lead and Copper Rule and are looking for research similar to hers.

"Basically research like this may help protect our children," Fawkes said. Fawkes said she looks forward to working with the cities to share her data.

"We want to share our data," Fawkes said. "We want to work with the City. Should the need arise for additional testing. We are happy to do it."

Both the City of Bryan and the City of College Station say they were not aware of the study being performed and have requested details of the report to ensure their fountain levels continue to remain safe.

In a statement sent to KRHD News from the City of Bryan:

"All of the readings in the researcher's report are within the EPA safety levels. The City of Bryan was unaware of the study prior to its publication, so we are in the process of contacting the researchers to get a copy of the data (locations tested, time frame, readings at those specific locations, etc.), and will be reviewing it to ensure the levels in Bryan’s water fountains continue to remain safe."

The City of College Station also shared the following to KRHD News:

"The City of College Station was not made aware of the testing that was performed a year ago in the two cities. While all the readings cited by the researchers fall well below the EPA's own action levels, College Station is not aware which levels corresponded to College Station parks or any other essential detail of the findings. We have asked for a meeting with the research team so all parties can learn more."

Fawkes said if someone chooses to drink from a drinking fountain, it's always best to run the water for approximately 30 seconds and then drink from it.

If you want to learn more about water quality reports or facts on your community's drinking water, click here for the City of Bryan and here for City of College Station.