If you visit a Minneapolis school early in the morning, you might see a drinking fountain running with no one drinking. Lee Setter says that means custodians are doing their job.
"As they're opening doors, as they're turning on lights, they start water fountains and let them run for 15 minutes until you purge all the stagnant water that sat overnight out, bringing in fresh, clean water," said Setter, who oversees health and safety for Minneapolis Public Schools.
The district has 35 buildings where drinking fountains are "flushed" before students come to school. The flushing is supposed to protect students from lead. These schools have recorded high lead levels in their drinking water.
Many old buildings have problems with lead, which can leach from pipes into water. Schools are at particular risk because water sits idle on weekends and over the summer, allowing water to absorb more lead. The Minnesota Health Department recommends all schools test their water and flush when levels are high.
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Setter says flushing works. "It's really just a matter of making sure engineers know to do it and make part of their routine each morning."
Minnesota, though, has no idea how many school districts make testing and flushing part of their routine.
The state doesn't require testing, unless the school provides its own water supply. High lead levels have been found in certain areas, and many schools have taken action.
But taking action on lead is not required, said Anna Schliep, a Minnesota Health Department compliance engineer.
"Following the guidelines is voluntary," she said. "We don't have data on all the schools so I don't know myself if every school is following our guidelines. I hope that every school is doing something, but they may not be."
Minnesota hasn't had the problems around school lead that some other states have. The number of Minnesota children with high blood lead levels fell about 80 percent between 2002 and 2014. And most children with high lead levels get the contaminant from paint in houses or apartments, not from water.
One reason for the lack of problems in schools could be that Minnesota invests a relatively large amount in school construction and renovation, compared to other states. That money can fund overhauls that eliminate lead pipes altogether, like at Minneapolis' Webster Elementary.
The state recommends overhauls like this whenever possible. Setter, however, says it was an expensive project.
"This school, when it was renovated, probably 80 percent of it was gutted right down to dirt and pulling pipes out of the ground," he said.
And there may be cause for concern because spending on buildings varies district-to-district.
Students in wealthier districts benefit from more spending, because most of Minnesota's building money comes from local property taxes. Here, again, it's hard to tell the effect on student health: The state doesn't track the condition of school buildings.
Only a new state law could force schools to test and supply those records to the state. Minnesota Health Commissioner Ed Ehlinger says he's not ready to advocate for such a law yet.
He says state advocacy in the 1980s got schools testing, and now he believes most schools use the flushing system.
"Is that sufficient? It probably is, but we would need to do a little bit more evaluation to see before we mandate something that ... may not be necessary."
Ehlinger says he's also not convinced the state needs to gather more complete records on who's testing and what the results are. He says as much as he'd like to have perfect information on lead and other potential health threats, it may not be worth the cost of gathering it.