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Changing lead rules may hit Hough Elementary School

Hough Elementary School is caught in the middle of shifting standards at the Environmental Protection Agency for what qualifies as hazardous lead levels.

According to results released on Friday, only one room at the elementary school — a computer lab — tested above the EPA’s current hazard levels. But by the new standards the EPA could adopt this month, there’s more to worry about. Two other rooms at the campus at 1900 Daniels St. tested above the proposed levels.

Currently, the EPA says lead is at hazardous levels when floors test at 40 micrograms of lead per square foot and window sills test at 250 micrograms per square foot. The proposed rules would drop that to 10 micrograms and 100 micrograms for floors and window sills, respectively.

In Room 207, the computer lab, a swab of the tile floor tested at 71.25 micrograms per square foot. In Room 110, a fourth-fifth grade split classroom, window sill swabs tested at 155.97 micrograms per square foot. In Room 201, a learning support classroom for students who need extra tutoring, window sill swabs tested at 149.44 micrograms per square foot.

The vast majority of rooms tested at less than 5 micrograms per square foot.

Vancouver Public Schools contracted with civil engineering firm PBS Engineering and Environmental to test and clean the campus at a total cost of $31,000. Deep cleaning was conducted earlier this month, and according to an announcement to parents posted on the school website, the district is awaiting test results taken after that cleaning.

District spokeswoman Pat Nuzzo added that PBS will train and certify district maintenance staff in proper lead cleaning, and additional cleaning is planned for August before students return to school.

Dr. Alan Melnick, Clark County’s public health director, reiterated Friday that the risk of lead exposure for students at the elementary school campus is low. Younger children who are crawling around on the floor, putting objects in their mouths or touching things covered in lead dust then putting their hands in their mouths are at higher risk of chronic lead exposure

“I’m not happy with any level, but given that we have older kids, and given they’re not likely to climb up on the window sill, the exposure risk is low,” he said.

Chronic lead exposure can damage a child’s developing brain, leading to learning and behavioral disabilities. Melnick advised that parents who are concerned about exposure work with their primary care physician.

Hough Elementary School was built in 1941 and is one of Clark County’s oldest campuses. Lead-based paint and its dust are commonly found in buildings and homes constructed before 1978, the year the federal government banned the durable but toxic product.

That covers a significant swath of the historic Hough neighborhood. There are 1,443 properties in the neighborhood for which data are available about the year they were constructed. Of those, 1,043 were constructed prior to 1978, according to a Columbian analysis.

Windows at Hough Elementary School will be replaced in 2020 as part of the school district’s 2017 bond measure.


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