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The Garfield Messenger

The student news source of Garfield High School

The Garfield Messenger

The student news source of Garfield High School

The Garfield Messenger

Contaminated by Confusion

Piecing together Garfield’s water quality situation.
Contaminated by Confusion

Many rumors have been spread across Garfield’s student body regarding the quality of the water coming out of Garfield’s water fountains, fixtures, and faucets. Most assume it is not contaminated while others would disagree. Junior Miep Barr Clingan hopes the water is safe “I’ve been drinking it, but I haven’t died. I’m not dead yet”, she said. “Yeah [it’s] probably safe. Who knows, but it’s fine” adds Senior Peter Strickland. The question has remained for generations of students – is the water at Garfield safe to drink?

According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the extent to which lead leaks into drinking water is dependent on several factors. This includes the acidity and temperature of the water, the condition of the pipes, and how long the water stays in the pipes. Water passing through bad pipes leads to lead-contaminated water. As water goes through, it takes bits and pieces of the pipe away with it, leading to water contamination. The more the pipes age, the more they will contaminate, meaning a previously safe water source may quickly become unsafe. This directly impacts low-income communities way more than the high-income ones since, due to a lack of funding, they can’t afford to change the pipes as frequently. 

Since 1986, the federal government has prevented new water pipes from using large amounts of lead in their construction. However, pipes laid before 1986 have been allowed to stay in use. The main building of Garfield dates back to 1920 and the building was remodeled in 2006. But did the pipes get replaced during this remodel? 

When Garfield teacher Mr. N-K started teaching in 2009, Garfield did not have drinkable water. “The drinking fountains were [all] turned off,” he recalled. 

Before 2021, Seattle Public Schools tested all water sources at schools every three years, publishing the results on their website. The results are published on the SPS website, although they’re difficult to obtain. When tested in August 2008, many of the school’s water fountains or faucets showed lead levels above what is considered safe, implying that the pipes were not replaced during the 2006 remodel and corroborating N-K’s story. Further tests in 2011, 2014 and 2018 showed continued safe lead levels within the water, confirming that school water is safe to drink.

So why is there still confusion on whether or not Garfield’s water is safe to drink?

One reason may be the historical contamination of SPS buildings with unsafe levels of lead. In 2004, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer reported that recent SPS water tests had shown unsafe levels of lead almost everywhere, including up to 1,600 parts per billion in one elementary school. With no clear maintenance reports and a district most definitely not in financial shape to fix the problem, historical problems have continued as rumors. 

Another reason may be the lack of recent tests. SPS last tested Garfield’s water sources in 2018 – five years ago. A follow-up test was planned for the 2020-2021 school year, but results have either not been published or the test was canceled due to COVID. In 2021, the WA Department of Health (DOH) took over testing for all schools in Washington State. However, according to test reports published on the SPS website, only five schools – out of 106 – have been tested by the DOH.

Recent tests will only ever give slight confirmation. Even with tests determining the exact concentration of lead in water, there is still debate on what is considered “safe”. The EPA sets an action limit of 15 ppb, above which something must be done to lower it. SPS goes further, setting a limit of 10 ppb. Even then, there is still debate over what can be considered safe. Lead often poisons the human body extremely slowly, with symptoms showing up far after the damage has been done. 

Though SPS says on their website that all school water fountains do not test above 10 ppb for lead, the question still stays standing until we can get recent real, concrete results from SPS-Is Garfield’s water safe to drink? For now, all we can do is ponder the overarching question, be confused, and stay angry.

Dear SPS board members, please do us a favor and test Garfield’s water so the student body and staff don’t have to wonder if they’re contaminating themselves with lead any longer. 

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About the Contributors
Kelan Sato (he/him)
Kelan is a Junior at Garfield, and this is his first year on the Messenger. At Garfield he is part of the JSA, APISU, debate team, orchestra, and tennis team. In his free time he loves spending time with friends and family, sleeping, eating food, and procrastinating his huge stack of homework. Kelan also loves to write too much and make the editors figure out how his article can fit on the paper. He is very excited for an awesome year with the Messenger!  
Leo Carlin
Leo Carlin, Business & NFO
Leo (he/him) is a senior at Garfield, on his second year of the Messenger, and edits the NFO section while running the Messenger's business side. Leo enjoys reading the news far too much, leaving typos in his own and others' work, and constantly thinking of ways to extract more fundraising. Leo's goals for the Messenger this year are to increase staff diversity, highlight minority communities, and work towards a more journalistically free, financially stable Messenger.

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