Shelby County Schools says latest testing results show unsafe lead levels at 35 schools total


MEMPHIS, Tenn. ( – New results are in and we now know 11 additional Shelby County Schools tested positive for lead in water samples above the EPA limit.

35 of the district’s 165 schools – one in five – had at least one water fountain, sink, or cooler with abnormally high lead levels – some dozens of times higher than the EPA’s lead action level.

In response Tuesday, SCS Superintendent Dr. Joris Ray walked the halls of Idlewild Elementary, one of 35 total SCS schools where testing conducted last month came back with elevated levels of lead. Dr. Ray laid out the district’s action plan and attempted to reassure parents and ease concerns.

“We will ensure safety because that’s paramount,” Dr. Ray said.

We now know more than 60 samples out of 3500 across SCS schools – or about 2% – tested positive for high lead levels, some 40 times the EPA limit.

“We are going to do our due diligence working with our business ops team,” Dr. Ray said.

Parents at schools with positive tests were notified within five days of the results, and those affected water sources were turned off or removed.

“Even if we had a child try to use it, can’t use it, it’s taken offline,” Dr. Ray said. 

Still, the SCS superintendent said the results again highlight the district’s infrastructure challenges in its aging schools, and what district leaders identified as more than half a billion dollars in deferred maintenance needs.

“We are listening to the community, we are talking to the county commission, to ensure that we get the proper resources that it’s going to take,” Dr. Ray said.

A parent at one of the 35 Shelby County Schools – Jackson Elementary – said she’ll now take her daughter to one of several Shelby County Health Department locations offering free lead testing.

“I just want to make sure my daughter is safe and so is the rest of the children at school,” Jackson Elementary parent Kathleen Meyer said.

The lead test involves a student getting a finger prick, and if the prick is positive for elevated lead, another blood sample is drawn and sent to a lab for testing. Results come back within five days and if that second sample is also positive, a follow up test is done within a month.

Health department leaders said parents do not have to show proof their child is enrolled in one of the affected 35 Shelby County Schools. (Find more on the testing HERE.)

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