An investigation by the Tampa Bay Times has found that the Hillsborough County School District knew about high levels of lead in some of their schools drinking water — for more than a year — and yet, didn’t say a word to parents. Instead, the district announced their results three days after the Times started asking teachers and principals if they knew about the lead levels in their classrooms. By that point, the district had ignored federal recommendations to disclose the results for 16 months.

In an interview with the Times, deputy superintendent for operations Chris Farkas acknowledged his mistake in not telling parents sooner but also quickly noted that the district should be credited for doing the testing because it wasn’t “required by law.” Farkas said, “If I was going to hide something, why would I test at all?” 1


But the truth is that testing only began 35 days afterTimes reporter requested district records proving that lead testing for piping at 11 schools had been done. And it wasn’t until the request had been received that the district started testing schools, but only the ones the Times asked about.

“Many of the high results were in water fountains that teachers and students drink from every day. Others were in kitchens, where food cooked in lead-tainted water can easily soak up dangerous levels of the poison, experts say.”2

Students head back to class this week even though only a portion of the schools have been tested. And among those tested, some lead has been found in each one.

“Consuming trace amounts of lead can have life-changing effects on young children. It invades their developing brains and shrinks areas that govern attention, comprehension, reasoning, aggression and impulse control. It can warp red blood cells, limiting their ability to carry oxygen. It can lurk in the body for decades, clinging to bones like a belligerent squatter, then release into the blood years later and resume its attack on vital organs.”3

Water testing reveals dozens of Hillsborough County school fixtures with above normal lead levels

The district has released a list of schools that have fixtures with levels of lead higher than their guidelines. Out of 1,781 samples taken so far, 26 have returned with higher levels.

Click here to see the Times database of schools that have been tested in Hillsborough.

None of the results in Hillsborough are as high as the levels found by schools in Philadelphia and New York or even in Flint. But the CDC, EPA, and American Academy of Pediatrics all agree that any amount of lead in drinking water is unsafe and lead exposure is cumulative. Even though kids exposed to low levels of lead don’t immediately exhibit dramatic symptoms, “the poison irreversibly chips away at their brains and then can disappear from the blood quickly, making it difficult to determine whether a student has been affected.”4

If you are the parent of a child in the Hillsborough County School District the takeaway here is persistence because the federal law requiring districts to purge lead (a NEUROTOXIN) from classrooms was overturned by an appeals court in 1996. And because teachers and school board members didn’t know what was going either thanks to deputy superintendent for operations Chris Farkas and district communications chief Grayson Kamm silence on the matter. And lastly, because thus far, the district hasn’t reported publically on lead levels under 15 ppb.


Currently, the district plans to test all schools that are 40-plus years old, by mid-December. However, it will be up to each parent to hold administrators responsible for that.

Remember, the only way to protect children is to end their exposure to the toxin.

Sources and References

  1. Tampa Bay Times, August 9, 2018.
  2. Tampa Bay Times, August 9, 2018.
  3. Tampa Bay Times, August 9, 2018.
  4. Tampa Bay Times, August 9, 2018.