By Joel Grover, Matt Goldberg | NBCLosAngeles.com
updated 9:16 a.m. PT, Sat., Feb. 7, 2009
LOS ANGELES -- It now appears the water at some Los Angeles schools is much more contaminated with lead than anyone ever thought.
Recent tests done by the district shows that the water at some schools has dozens, even hundreds of times the amount of lead the government says is safe.
At Porter Middle School in Granada Hills, workers have turned off eight fountains and faucets, so students can't drink the water. Recent tests by the school district showed the water on one faucet had a lead level of 954 parts per billion. That's 63 times the 15 parts per billion that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says is safe to drink.
At other schools, workers are shutting off the water in hallways, in classrooms and in cafeterias.
At Olive Vista Middle School, a cafeteria faucet used for cooking had a lead level of 6400 parts per billion, 426 times the government limit.
The lead levels deeply concern parents like Hannele Kamacho.
"Absolutely unacceptable. This should not be happening. The kids are basically victims," Kamacho said.
It was nine months ago that NBC Los Angeles first revealed that some LA schools had lead-tainted water. But the district has repeatedly told parents not to worry, because they had a flushing policy, requiring custodians to run every fountain for 30 seconds each morning, which supposedly flushes out any contaminated water.
But the district's own tests now show that's not always true. Three months ago, maintenance workers began testing the water at schools citywide. At each fountain, they take one sample before school starts. Then they flush for 30 seconds, and take another sample.
But even after flushing, test results we obtained show 1,162 fixtures are still spewing out water with unsafe levels of lead.
When asked why were those lead levels are so high, LAUSD Maintenance and Operations Director Neil Gamble said, "I actually can't explain exactly now."
A fountain at Portola Middle School in Tarzana was dispensing water with 14 times the amount of lead the government says is safe.
At Glen Alta Elementary, a kindergarten fountain was at 28 times the limit.
At Salvin Special Ed School, one fountain tested 493 times the government limit -- that was after being flushed.
"Would you want your children drinking this water?" Grover asked Gamble.
"I would prefer they not drink that water," he replied.
But thousands of children and employees have been drinking this water, laced with high levels of lead for years.
"It's a serious problem," said Dr. James Seltzer, who studies the effects of lead exposure at UC Irvine.
He says children who regularly consumed this lead-tainted water could suffer long-term health effects.
"It is definitely a potentially serious problem, especially for children who are getting other lead exposures and intake from the other parts of their environment," Seltzer said.
That's why the district has shut-off more than a 1,000 fountains dispensing unsafe water, and has red-tagged them so they'll stay off indefinitely.
"Safety is a primary issue, and that's why we're going in there and shutting them down," says Gamble.
The district is now testing new fountains and pipes to replace the old ones made with lead. It'll be paid for with up to $100 million of bond money already approved by voters.
"The key for all of these, is these are all stainless steel," Gamble tells NBC LA.
For now, many LAUSD parents, like Kamacho, are instructing their kids to drink only bottled water while at school.
The district is in the process of testing the water at all 800 LA public schools and plans to finish testing by April.
To review the results of the districts water test visit: http://www.lausd-oehs.org/drinkingwater_listschools.asp