Water fountains at Plessy Community School in New Orleans covered with plastic in March 2019 after an off-the-shelf test, performed by a student, came back positive for contaminants. Filters have since been installed at the school. (Marta Jewson/The Lens)

Lead levels in the drinking water at Homer A. Plessy Community School are within federal guidelines and near undetectable with newly installed filters, Orleans Parish school district officials announced Wednesday.

The district tested the water with and without the newly installed filtration system. Without the filters, three fountains had trace levels of lead that fell below the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s threshold of 15 parts per billion, but above the level recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics of 1 ppb.

The results came three weeks after a 7th-grader’s off-the-shelf water test prompted the district to shut off the school’s drinking fountains and bring in bottled water. As a result, the district bumped the French Quarter school to the front of the line for filters that are going in district-wide and placed an emergency order for booster pumps when the school’s water pressure was too low to install the filters.

“In evaluating drinking water, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Louisiana Department of Health (LDH) have defined an action level for lead concentrations in drinking at or above 15 parts per billion,” a district press release stated. “All samples were well below the defined action level recommended by the EPA and LDH.”

Plessy principal Meghan Raychaudhuri said she’s pleased.

“We are relieved that the amount of lead in the water came back well below the EPA’s recommended action level of 15 parts per billion,” Raychaudhuri said Wednesday.

The district’s Senior Operations Officer, Tiffany Delcour, informed Raychaudhuri of the results via email Wednesday. The email included a new timeline for the filter installation project which has drawn on for years.

“The District commits to complete all water filter installations by August 1, 2019,” Delcour wrote.

The district doesn’t know if it has a problem with lead in its school buildings. It decided to forego testing months after promising to test the water in the wake of the lead-in-water crisis in Flint, Michigan in 2016. After speaking with experts, the district determined filters were a safer way to protect students. The Sewerage and Water Board of New Orleans’ had also questioned the district’s testing plan. The water agency has been criticized for failing to let nearby residents know of construction projects that disturb lead pipes and can knock lead particles loose.

After problems with the contracting process, it took another year to begin installing the filters. The first filters were installed late last summer.

“To date, the District has installed water filters at 36 schools and has 45 schools remaining for install,” Delcour wrote.

The Lens has asked for a list of the schools that have the new filtration systems in the past but the district has not provided one.

The district plans to install all filters by Aug. 1.

Marta Jewson

Marta Jewson covers education in New Orleans for The Lens. She began her reporting career covering charter schools for The Lens and helped found the hyperlocal news site Mid-City Messenger. Jewson returned...