Report: lead paint levels at elementary higher than district estimates

BY LUKE VOELZ | MAY 06, 2011 7:20 AM

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A renovated stairwell in Mann Elementary contains levels of lead-based paint above the state limit, according to an analysis performed by the University of Iowa Hygienic Laboratory on May 10, 2010.

The Iowa Department of Public Health defines lead-based paint as paint containing 0.5 percent or more lead. The north stairwell of Mann contains 0.6 percent, the lab found.

University of Iowa Professor Edwin Stone, one of two Iowa City residents who recently sued the district for allegedly ignoring open-records laws, sent a copy of this report to the members of the School Board and Superintendent Steve Murley Wednesday night.

Stone said he first presented the report to Murley and board President Patti Fields in December 2010.

Stone called attention in the e-mail to a video of the April 26 School Board meeting, in which Paul Bobek, the district’s executive director of administrative services, said he believes samples from the stairwell came back within acceptable limits.

“Though I find your persistence irritating at times, we are absolutely obligated to respond to your inquiries as we must anyone’s,” wrote board member Sarah Swisher in an April 11 e-mail to Stone.

“The problem is your concerns are always well-researched. If there are parents who do not know about the presence of lead in our buildings, no matter how small, it is important for the board to have a public discussion on the problem.”

Swisher and Fields could be not be reached for comment, and neither could most other board members. Board member Gayle Klouda and Assistant Superintendent Ann Feldmann said they didn’t have enough information to comment. District staff said Murley was out of office for the week.

Stone said he is worried such responses have made it difficult for members of the public to bring their concerns to the board’s attention.

“After months of trying to get a substantive response, you’re characterized as being irritating instead of a good citizen who is bringing a serious matter to the attention of someone who could do something about it,” he said. “I want people to treat the schools the way they would treat their own homes.”

In schools with students under age 6, when a renovation or repair involves a lead-paint-containing area more than 1 square foot in size, Iowa law requires the district to notify parents in advance and take preventative measures to protect children and staff from lead exposure. Stone said he has asked the district, which he said scraped and repainted a portion of Mann’s north stairwell in 2010, whether the repaired area was large enough to trigger government-mandated reporting; he said he has not received a response.

Kevin Officer, an environmental specialist at the Iowa Department of Public Health, said it is more important to focus on the setting of a lead paint-based area rather than the exact statistics of the lead concentration.

“It becomes a hazard when paint starts to break down, peel, and deteriorate,” he said. “At that point, it becomes a potential hazard to kids. Younger kids are more susceptible because their bodies are still in developmental stages.”

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