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Free lead tests offered at SF school with toxic soil

Buena Vista Horace Mann K-8 Community School sectioned off its courtyard after finding high levels of lead and arsenic in the garden soil. | Courtesy Nicholas Chandler

Over a month after lead and arsenic turned up at a Mission District school, students and staff can soon get free tests for lead poisoning.  

The blood testing that starts Friday and continues over the coming month for Buena Vista Horace Mann K-8 Community School (BVHM) is hosted by the Latino Task Force and takes place at the community group's health center at 24th and Capp streets, The Standard has learned. Families and staff will have the chance again on each Saturday through Feb. 4. 

The tests come in the wake of a lead and arsenic discovery in the school garden soil followed by lead found in its water

Community members immediately demanded officials provide testing for lead instead of just the reimbursements offered by the San Francisco Unified School District. The bilingual school largely serves Spanish-speaking, low-income and immigrant students. 

The mobile testing came about by a coalition of community groups and public agencies, including the Latino Task Force, SFUSD, the San Francisco Department of Public Health and Supervisor Hillary Ronen’s office.

“We gave our commitment to families that were uninsured that they were going to get these services,” said Tracy Gallardo, an organizer with the Latino Task Force who also works as legislative aide to Supervisor Shamann Walton. 

Gallardo, a BVHM alumnus who sent her own children to the school, said she’s hearing about negative test results from families who already had their kids screened for lead exposure. She expects those getting tested through Latino Task Force did not previously have access to health insurance. 

If the free mobile tests net a positive result, she said that child or staff member will get referred to the Mission Neighborhood Health Center for aftercare.

Families and staff should be prepared to have blood drawn, SFUSD spokesperson Laura Dudnick said.

The district provided water bottles and delivered water dispensers in December until all faucets are cleared for safe use. Of the 98 water fixtures tested in mid-December, 12 showed elevated levels of lead. 

The school’s garden is also in the midst of an excavation to remove the toxins, but delays from the storms has made it unclear when it can reopen. 

The aging school has long been in disrepair, and the storms made things worse. According to SFUSD community school coordinator Nick Chandler, the wild weather toppled a tree on campus and forced one of its classrooms to close for a couple weeks because of a leaky ceiling.