Grandfather wants Amherst schools to provide lead-free water

By Diane Lederman, originally posted on October 19, 2016


AMHERST — Shutesbury resident Michael Hootstein is asking the Amherst regional school district to provide lead-free school drinking water to all students and faculty because of lead found in some fixtures.

School and state officials maintain the water is safe to drink.

Hootstein sent an email to the regional school committee and acting Superintendent Michael Morris Wednesday asking them “to purchase and provide our children, teachers and staff uncontaminated, lead-free school drinking water until such time a new lead-free water delivery system is installed.”

In an email he wrote that “lead is a very dangerous neurotoxin that is injurious to the developing brains of schoolchildren.”

The grandfather of an Amherst Regional High School sophomore, Hootstein last month filed allegations with the state attorney general’s office that the Amherst Regional School Committee repeatedly violated Open Meeting Law while discussing a separation agreement with the district’s former superintendent.

Lead has been found in more than 200 faucets and water fountains throughout the district in concentrations above 15 parts per billion (ppb). That number is reduced once the fixtures are flushed for 30 seconds. Any fixtures still bearing lead in greater concentrations than 15 ppb after flushing have been closed off.

But Hootstein contends the flushing protocol “dangerously threatens the healthy well-being of our children, teachers and school staff who should not have to worry about lead contamination in school drinking water — they deserve better!”

“Time is of the essence,” Hootstein’s letter continues. “Even the Amherst Public Water Supply water, contaminated with 6.3 ppb of lead at school intake points, presents an unacceptable risk to the health and safety of schoolchildren, teachers and other school staff alike.”

Jessica Burkhamer, an environmental analyst with the state Department of Public Health, said her office was assured by Amherst Director of Health and Communities Services Julie Federman that daily flushing has “reduced lead to levels below the Massachusetts action level of 15 (ppb).”

The Amherst Department of Public Works is also working on a more permanent solution, Burkhamer said in a response to Hootstein.

Morris wrote to Hootstein that “the information that has been shared with us by our local Public Health Department, our DPW and the UMass professor who is completing all water testing for the state all aligned with that the water is safe to drink after our flushing protocols. Furthermore, a parent who attended one of our forums, a professor in the field at a different college, confirmed this opinion.”

People are free to bring their own water to school, Morris said. But he noted that water is unlikely to have been tested as carefully as the water available in the schools.

In an update to district families last week, Morris wrote that 16 water outlets were repaired at Fort River Elementary School by replacing the fixtures and the supply lines with certified lead-free parts. School officials wanted to test the repair procedure before bringing it to other schools, Morris said.

“Given the ages of the buildings, we know that the original fixtures and supply lines were not certified lead-free,” Morris said. “While almost all of the repaired water outlets had a reduction in the lead levels, none dropped below that action level on first-draw testing.”

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