Lead found in water in Attleboro & North Attleboro schools

By Jim Hand, originally posted on November 17, 2016


ATTLEBORO — Tests of water from several taps in Attleboro and North Attleboro schools were found to exceed government limits for lead, and corrective action is being taken.

Attleboro is replacing fixtures that failed two tests, while North Attleboro is flushing, taking out of service or allowing hand washing only at 14 potentially problematic taps while awaiting the results of a second test.

The first test comes when a tap has not been used overnight, while the second comes after a 30-second flush, according to a letter from North Attleboro schools to parents.

Attleboro Superintendent David Sawyer said some of the fixtures in his system were not in use before the water was tested and others were rarely used. Still, they will be replaced.

He said two fixtures at Studley Elementary School have already been replaced, but results of a third test are not yet in. The third test determines whether the replacement of the fixture cured the problem.

Once the results are available, they will be shared with parents, he said.

In Attleboro, fixtures at Coelho Middle School, the old high school on County Street, the old Finberg School, and Briggs Corner School will also be replaced.

Until new fixtures are installed, the faucet and bubblers will not be used.

Hill-Roberts and Hyman Fine Elementary schools passed inspections. Willett, Thacher, Brennan, Wamsutta and the high school have yet to be tested.

Sawyer said the problem is that older water fixtures have small amounts of lead in them. If the fixtures are not used regularly, water sits in them and lead leaches into the water, he said.

The source of the water, itself, is fine, he said.

One response might be to run the water before using it to get rid of the bad water, but the schools will instead replace the fixtures, even the ones that were not in use, he said.

The North Attleboro schools having their taps retested are the Amvet, Community, Martin, middle school and high school. North Attleboro said it tested 231 taps and only the 14 tested too high for lead.

North Attleboro parent Diana Holmes said she thought the problem was symbolic of the neglect of the school department infrastructure.

She said the town has let the schools fall behind the times.

The water problems were discovered as a result of the school departments participating in a state-funded testing program that grew out of concern in the wake of the massive lead problem found in water in Flint, Mich.

Ed Coletta, spokesman for the state Department of Environmental Protection, said funding has been given to 169 cities and towns that volunteered to be tested.

He said the U.S. Centers for Disease Control consider any level of lead to be unsafe and the federal Environmental Protection Agency calls for remedial action if lead exceeds 15 parts per billion.

Earlier this week, the state added $750,000 to the $2 million that had already been made available for testing.

“To date, approximately 26,000 water samples have been collected and analyzed at local schools throughout the commonwealth,” Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Matthew Beaton said.

While the state pays for the testing, the schools pay for replacing fixtures.

Sawyer said the problem fixtures go through three tests. The first one discovers the problem. The second one confirms it. The third test comes after remedial action to make sure the problem is fixed.

He said the testing just began last month and will continue for some time, with the expansive high school expected to take a long time to test.

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