Report: Lead, copper in school water

by Chris Lisinski, originally posted on November 20, 2016


Several public schools around Greater Lowell have reported high levels of lead, copper or both in drinking water, according to information released by the state on Tuesday.

Some local schools have been vocal about testing within the last few months, and most have already moved to shut down and replace sources of water that may be contaminated. But Tuesday’s announcement shows a compilation of data from tests in schools across the state conducted under a state program.

Tests at districts including Billerica, Chelmsford, Lowell and Wilmington showed amounts of lead and copper, which can be harmful to humans when ingested in excessive quantities, above the “action level” defined by the federal Environmental Protection Agency.

State officials said any problems are likely caused by equipment. Older pipes and faucets can introduce lead into water, and not by the water supply itself, which is usually clean.

“Ensuring every water tap and fountain is properly tested expeditiously is an important priority for our administration, the more than 900 schools, and the thousands of students attending them,” Gov. Charlie Baker said in a Tuesday statement.

In April, the state put $2 million toward a program to help public schools test their drinking water, and it published results this week from 450 schools in 90 communities, or about half of the buildings that will be examined by the program’s end. Officials announced alongside the data that they would spend a further $750,000 on testing.

More than 160 schools reported lead levels greater than 0.015 milligrams per liter, which is the limit at which the federal government recommends action, and 74 schools reported copper levels greater than 1.3 milligrams per liter, also the federal action level. Many schools also reported trace amounts of lead and copper that were below the action level.

Lead poisoning can cause damage to the brain or kidneys, and young children and pregnant women are particularly at risk.

Eight school buildings in Lowell indicated concentrations of one or both materials above the action level. Schools in Ayer, Billerica, Chelmsford, Devens, Dunstable, Fitchburg, Gardner, Littleton and Wilmington also discovered high concentrations, according to the state’s data.

It was unclear in the state’s report whether those measurements came from a single fountain or sink in each school or from multiple sources, but some districts said they believed old equipment to be at fault.

Officials in some of the affected districts said they notified parents when they received test results, and took actions to prevent students or staff from being affected by the contaminated water.

“Upon receipt and review of the results, we immediately (same day we received the results back) shut down the units that we reported above the actionable level,” Steve Mark, business manager for the Littleton Public Schools, wrote in an email. “Those units are no longer usable or accessible by students or staff at the Shaker Lane School and the one unit at the High School.”

Groton-Dunstable Regional School District Superintendent of Schools Kristan Rodriguez said school workers determined that there were “just a few fixtures in some of our buildings” that caused lead contamination, but no problems with the pipes. The district, like many others, sent letters home to parents to notify them of the affected taps being shut off.

“We started testing in the fall, and as soon as we got results, we notified parents (same day actually),” she wrote in an email.

Some districts have been vocal about their efforts since before the state report was released. Last month, Billerica shut off water to affected outlets once results showed high levels of lead, and Wilmington worked to replace more than 50 faulty faucets and fountains over the summer.


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