IREDELL COUNTY, N.C. — Scientists were at Lake Norman High School Tuesday to start a second round of testing after a chemical linked to thyroid issues was detected in the water on campus.
Channel 9 obtained a 144-page report detailing air and water quality test results across the Iredell-Statesville School District found
The district started testing the water at 33 schools back in the fall. The results of those tests are dated Dec. 3.
A representative from Iredell-Statesville Schools said the board voted Monday night to provide bottled water to students at Lake Norman High until they can get more test results.
The results at almost all of the schools came back well within standards considered safe by the Environmental Protection Agency. But one result from Lake Norman High School stood out to Greg Pillar, an environmental professor and chemist at Queens College.
Pillar pointed out that water at Lake Norman High School tested for 137 micrograms per liter of a chemical called perchlorate.
"Lake Norman, 137. That's not high to the level of, oh, the drinking water presents immediate harm, but you definitely don't want to be drinking that day after day after day,” Pillar said.
The EPA began describing perchlorate as a contaminant in 2011. The agency is still working to determine what’s considered a safe level in drinking water but has set an interim drinking water health advisory of 15 micrograms per liter.
The level of perchlorate found at Lake Norman High School was more than nine times that.
The school sent Channel 9 a statement, saying in part, "School officials did notice that perchlorate levels at Lake Norman High School were particularly elevated in comparison to perchlorate levels at neighboring schools. School officials are communicating with the lab and with Reliant Environmental to double check the perchlorate levels at Lake Norman High School to be sure we have an accurate reading."
Pillar said perchlorate is most often manufactured and is not found naturally in water.
“The most common source of perchlorate is actually rocket fuel, the production and storage of rocket fuel,” Pillar said.
The EPA’s website describes perchlorate in water as a health concern, specifically describing its link to thyroid problems.
It says, “Perchlorate can interfere with the human body’s ability to absorb iodine into the thyroid gland, which is a critical element in the production of thyroid hormones.”
The EPA said the school district could try closing the contaminated water supply.
Some public water systems in the US are also using treatment technology but to be effective, those systems need to be carefully designed and maintained.
Superintendent Brady Johnson said he wonders if there could be a mistake in the report from the lab the school hired.
“That's a municipal water supply that feeds several schools on the southern end of the county. We're having a hard time getting our mind wrapped around - if it's one water source, why is only one of the schools showing up with elevated levels?” Johnson said.
For months, Channel 9 has investigated thyroid cancer cases in Lake Norman High School’s Zip code and other areas of Iredell County.
State Rep. John Fraley and other state and county officials had a planned meeting Tuesday to discuss the ongoing thyroid cancer investigation.
“I think it's irresponsible to jump to any conclusion to what it may be,” Fraley said.
Channel 9 learned officials asked the superintendent to attend that meeting after our investigation caught their attention.
“They had heard the news about the water testing and wanted to hear from us,” Johnson said.
The group is working with state health and environmental regulators to determine which contaminants to test for as they try to determine if something in the environment is making people sick.
Channel 9 asked if perchlorate would be added to the list.
“If between DHHS and DEQ, their assessment is that that's one of the chemical compounds that should be looked at, that's what we would look at,” Fraley said.
Marilyn Gade, a mother at Lake Norman High School said, “Something is going to have to be done, and the school is going to have to take responsibility, and the town and the state.”
Iredell-Statesville Schools statement:
"The Iredell-Statesville Schools contracted with an outside agency in December to test water in all the schools within the district. Results were received last week. District administration is satisfied with the test results we received from Reliant Environmental. Based on the recommendation of Reliant Environmental and the issued lab report, there was no indication of exceeding North Carolina or Federal (EPA) drinking water requirements.
"However, school officials did notice that perchlorate levels at Lake Norman High School were particularly elevated in comparison to perchlorate levels at neighboring schools. School officials are communicating with the lab and with Reliant Environmental to double check the perchlorate levels at Lake Norman High School to be sure we have an accurate reading.
"Currently, it is our understanding that perchlorate levels are not regulated in North Carolina, which is why no recommendation was made from Reliant Environmental following these test results. We do understand that some states regulate perchlorate. We will continue to work to understand the deviation in perchlorate at Lake Norman High School by communicating with Reliant Environmental. Our desire is to be thorough and comprehensive in our testing to assure our school communities that our drinking water is safe."
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