DeKalb County Schools investigating possible lead paint issue at Laurel Ridge ElementaryA contractor pressure washed Laurel Ridge Elementary, spreading white paint chips on the ground which may have made their way into Burnt Fork Creek. A neighbor tested the paint underneath the new coat of paint at the school and found the old paint had lead contamination. The School District says their independent tests of paint on the front canopy were negative, but they found lead paint in the school's front window seals. Photo provided by Carol Hayes, a DeKalb County resident who lives near the school.
This story has been updated.
Greater Decatur, GA – DeKalb County Schools is investigating possible lead paint contamination at Laurel Ridge Elementary School.
The school system says a “community member” used a retail lead paint test kit and the test showed the presence of lead contamination.
“[DeKalb County Schools] responded quickly to this concern and was on-site first thing this morning [Feb. 18] to collect samples to have the paint tested by an independent lab,” a spokesperson for the district said. “[The school district] is taking this matter seriously and will ensure that the concerns are addressed appropriately.”
According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, lead contamination can cause a variety of health problems and children are particularly vulnerable.
“Lead may also cause behavioral problems, learning disabilities, seizures and in extreme cases, death,” the HUD website says.
Carol Hayes, who lives near the school, said Daniel Ballard, a neighbor who has children in Laurel Ridge, became concerned when he saw a contractor pressure washing the concrete pillars at the school before repainting them. His concern was that the paint chips were going into Burnt Fork Creek, so he contacted Hayes.
Hayes is also chair of the Watershed Alliance for Burnt Fork Creek.
“The first thought was the paint was going down the storm drain and into Burnt Fork Creek,” Hayes said.
Then another neighbor, who also happens to be an expert in lead remediation, became involved and raised the question of whether the paint contained lead because of the building’s age.
So she and her neighbor scraped some of the paint off and tested it. The test result showed the presence of lead contamination.
“The good news is the tests on the doors themselves where kids come and go were not positive,” she said. “All windows tested positive and quite a few of the areas they had pressure washed.”
She said the school district has covered a nearby storm drain with a mesh cover, but she said it is leaking.
Until the situation is resolved, children and families are advised to avoid the main entrance of the school and the pickup and dropoff area has been relocated.
Hayes said she was surprised the contractor didn’t test for lead paint before pressure washing the school because of the age of the school.
“Lead is one of those things that never goes away,” Hayes said. “Little tiny specs of airborne dust settle into the soil and they’re there forever.”
Ballard is a professional landscaper who also serves on the Laurel Ridge PTA’s building and grounds committee. He works with the school’s 4H club and they’re currently studying clean water and stream pollution. So the subject was top of mind when he noticed the paint chips. He said he loves the school and is happy that the district is improving the building. The contractors hired by the district also did a good job removing some “unsafe trees,” he said.
But the lead paint issue concerns him.
“If they had done preliminary samples and testing, there would be no reason to need to run to the school to do the testing they referred to in their statement,” he said. “It concerns me that they’re not saying that they made a mistake by not doing preliminary testing. The responsibility falls to both the district and the painting contractor on that.”
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