BATON ROUGE, La., (KNOE 8 News) – Desirae Gardner and Jalen Scott are students at Kenilworth Science and Technology middle school. Their papers, the result of their school science projects, are scheduled to be published in the March/April 2013 edition of the journal Soil Horizons, said LSU AgCenter soil scientist David Weindorf, who helped them in their research.
Kenilworth Science and Technology School is a charter school and part of the Louisiana Recovery School District.
The students' research focused on the presence of chemicals in the soils around public schools in East Baton Rouge parish. They sampled 11 schools for the presence of lead – likely from lead-based paints and window casings – and for copper, chromium and arsenic (CCA) – likely from lumber products treated with the chemicals as preservatives.
The students found concentrations above state screening levels for lead in isolated soil areas at four of the 11 schools and for arsenic at seven of the 11 schools.
Weindorf and students conducted the tests on the wood and soil surfaces with a portable x-ray fluorescence spectrometer, Weindorf said.
The lead came from flaking paint and deteriorating window casings as well as from gutter downspouts and other piping containing lead. The chromium, arsenic and copper came from treated wood used in older playground equipment, benches, bleachers, planters and planting beds, Weindorf said. Newer structures generally were not affected.
At each school, soil was tested for lead in areas around windows and chipped paint, near downspouts and other plumbing systems and in "control" areas on an open field or lawn area.
Areas closer to the buildings had higher concentrations of lead, Weindorf said.
The students tested wooden playground equipment, benches and bleachers as well as wood planting beds for copper, chromium and arsenic. They then tested adjacent soil as well as the soil in open areas.
Soils at seven of the 11 schools tested exceed the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality screening limit for arsenic, Weindorf said. None exceeded the limits for copper or chromium.
The best course of action, Weindorf said, is to replace old, CCA-treated wood with newer materials.
Lead concentrations varied widely. Seven of the schools had lead levels less than 100 ppm. Other sites didn't fare as well, and those were built before 1978.
The findings were not a surprise, Weindorf said. Low levels of such contamination should be expected in urban areas, especially around buildings that were constructed before 1970 when lead-based paint was widely used.
"The newer buildings were below screening limits," Weindorf said. "The contamination we found was not widespread or pervasive. Rather, it was confined to specific areas that were suspected of being affected by these older materials."
"We appreciate the LSU AgCenter bringing this issue to our attention and their commitment to work with us to survey our other school sites with their new technology," said East Baton Rouge Public School Superintendent Bernard Taylor Jr.
"Through our partnership, we can make our school facilities safer and help parents be aware of the environmental soil dangers throughout our community," he added. "We hope to continue to work with the AgCenter to develop materials that families can use to understand the healthy habits they can practice to mitigate the dangers of soil that suffered decades of chemical impact