4 drinking fountains shut off at 3 Quincy schools after lead testing

by Neal Simpson, originally posted on October 26, 2016


QUINCY – School officials have shut off four drinking fountains at three Quincy schools after water quality tests found lead levels that exceed state limits for drinking water.

The results from the four fountains – three of which were already broken and weren’t being used – were among the first to be released as Quincy school officials continue testing the more than 360 sinks and other water fixtures across the department’s 20 school buildings for contamination from copper or lead. Prolonged exposure to the heavy metal can have long-term effects on health and physical and mental development, particularly for children under the age of 6.

In addition to shutting off the four drinking fountains at Bernazzani, Parker and Atlantic schools, officials have posted “for hand washing only” signs above sinks at eight schools that tested positive for elevated levels of lead, which cannot be absorbed through skin. Quincy officials are still awaiting results from tests at 10 other school buildings.

Quincy school officials launched the department-wide water testing project this fall after the discovery of elevated levels of lead in drinking water in Boston schools prompted Gov. Charlie Baker to put up $2 million to help local school departments test their water. Under state law, school departments are only required to test two of their schools each year.

Quincy school officials have chosen to take a different approach to the lead contamination than officials in Boston, who this summer ordered that all water fountains in a school be shut down and bottled water be trucked in if just one fountain in the school tested positive for elevated levels of lead. 12 Boston schools have been taken off tap water since April, 2016, and officials found that in some cases just replacing water fountains themselves wasn’t enough to fix the lead problem.

Chris Walker, a spokesman for Quincy Mayor Thomas Koch, said Quincy officials decided to shut off only the affected fountains because the water from all other fountains tested fine. At Bernazanni Elementary School, for example, two fountains tested positive for elevated levels of lead and 14 did not, leading officials to believe that the problem was with the fountains themselves, not the pipes leading to them.

Officials say lead likely got into the water samples from pipes or soldering installed before 1986, when the use of lead in plumbing equipment was banned. In a letter to parents, Superintendent Richard DeCristofaro said officials expected the tests would would turn up some lead contamination “given the age of the housing stock and some of the school buildings in Quincy.”

“Our expectation is that the system city-wide is in very good shape,” Walker said. “That’s not to say we didn’t expect, based on taking more than 600 samples, that we weren’t going to gets some hits.”

Koch has made it a priority of his administration to eliminate lead from the city’s water system even outside of the schools and has directed his staff to identify privately-owned service lines, which connect home faucets with city pipes, that may be made of lead. The mayor plans to use a $1 million no-interest loan from the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority to replace the lead lines.

“The end game is a 100 percent lead-free environment,” Walker said.

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