Emails, purchase orders reveal SAISD did not purchase lead filters despite knowing about lead in water

SAN ANTONIO – In the first few days of December 2022, San Antonio ISD learned the water in several of its schools tested positive for lead, according to emails obtained by KSAT Investigates.

A purchase order from December 16, 2022 shows the district spent $114,942.53 on 125 water bottle fillers. According to the manufacturer’s website, the fillers don’t have lead filters.

“I think that’s an incredible misuse of funds,” San Antonio ISD parent Emily Doherty said.

Records obtained by KSAT through an open records request show the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality emailed SAISD before December 16, 2022 about six schools that had faucets or fountains with high lead levels.

“Outlets with results about 15 ppb must not be used for consumption (drinking or cooking) and should be immediately blocked off,” according to the email.

A purchase order from May 2023 shows the district spent $14,005 to install the fillers at six schools, including Mark Twain Dual Language Academy and Fox Tech.

Emails show both schools had fountains with lead readings well above the threshold.

Doherty said she has questions for the district.

“Did you know about this? Did you approve this? And if so, why would you do that?” she said.

KSAT tried to get answers from SAISD superintendent Jaime Aquino during a ten-minute break at a May 20 board meeting.

“We want to talk to you about the lead in the water,” KSAT asked Aquino.

“I’m going to the restroom,” Aquino said.

“Can we grab you afterwards?” KSAT asked Aquino.

“No, you can’t,” Aquino said.

KSAT began to ask if Aquino thought it was acceptable for children to drink water with lead, but Aquino walked away and closed the door.

KSAT was not able to ask Aquino when SAISD plans to remove the fillers that don’t have lead fillers.

Emails obtained by KSAT show SAISD’s facilities department planned to remove them by Jan. 19.

A foreman with the district’s facilities services department sent an email on Jan. 19. In the email, the foreman wrote that the project was put on hold due to the weather.

Jan. 19 was the same week SAISD shut down after several schools had “significant heating failures.”

Dr. Melissa Hill is SAISD’s assistant director of environmental health and safety.

In an email sent in May 2024, Dr. Hill recommended the district buy water bottle refill stations with lead filters, which she said was vetted by the district’s plumbing department.

As of April 2024, records show those filters haven’t been purchased.

“If you know that you have lead in your pipes, why wouldn’t you buy filters that filter lead?” Doherty said. “Our children deserve better.”

SAISD spokesperson Laura Short declined to make Superintendent Aquino available for an interview but instead sent KSAT a statement.

“Our existing supply of water bottle refill stations, which lack filtration, will be used to replace damaged fountains as needed for drinking fountain outlets that tested below 1 percent, which is well below the acceptable threshold. SAISD continues to work with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality’s (TCEQ) Voluntary Lead Testing in School and Childcare Program. As the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency continues to revise the Lead and Copper Rule, we too are continuing to take a proactive approach. Additionally, as part of our technical design guide for current and future capital improvement projects, we are adding filtered water bottle refill stations that are certified to remove lead.”

More related coverage of lead found in water at SAISD on KSAT:

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