An email sent by Superintendent Dr. Brad Jackson on January 20, 2017 revealed that two water fixtures within Robert Adams Middle School were flagged by the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP) as containing lead and/or copper above actionable levels.
“Every fixture in the district was tested,” said Keith Buday, the business manager for the school system.
Water tends to be corrosive which can cause metals in the piping to leach. Actionable levels of lead and copper are defined as 15 parts per billion for lead and 1300 parts per billion for copper.
Two samples were taken from each source – an initial draw collected before school opened for the day and a flushed draw collected after the water ran for a minimum of 30 seconds.
Dr. Jackson’s email detailed the findings of the investigation.
A food prep sink by the faculty dining room was found to have lead upon an initial draw at 39 parts per billion. This sink has been largely unused after the discontinuation of preparing separate hot meals for faculty. The faucet to the kitchen kettle, used in preparing items like pasta, was found to have an initial draw of lead at 32 parts per billion and copper at 1400 parts per billion.
The faucet delivering water to the kitchen kettle was the only one with potential for exposure. In response to the question of how many kids eat lunch at the middle school, Dr. Jackson said, “I’d guess about 40% of the kids, and there’s about 700 kids.”
The sink was permanently removed and the faucet was replaced with a temporary line from an approved source.
Dr. Jackson did not know how long the fixtures have delivered water without inspection but said, “my assumption is that they were there since the building was renovated back in the early 2000s.”
On April 26, 2016 MassDEP received $2 million from the Massachusetts Clean Water Trust to aid schools in testing their water for lead or copper. Holliston participated voluntarily in this program.
“Additional funding would help communities to go beyond the requirements to replace or provide incentives to replace privately owned lead service lines and piping,” said Yvette DePeiza, the drinking water program director at MassDEP, in an email. The program provided by MassDEP does cover testing, but there is no financial assistance for replacing pipes within school districts.
“They understand that there isn’t an endless level of money to replace everything,” said Mr. Buday. Some corrective actions proposed by MassDEP include requiring the water to run for 30 seconds before use.
Holliston has taken sufficient steps to rectify the problem. “This isn’t a budget issue, this isn’t a financial issue, we fix what needs to be replaced,” said Mr. Buday. “We address problems when we know about them.”
Consumers can take action to prevent contaminated water.
“Consumers should read their local public water supplier Annual Consumer Confidence Report (Water Quality Report) and contact their local public water supplier to know what can be done to assist in ensuring a continued supply of safe water,” Ms. DePeiza said in her email.
MassDEP was given the primary responsibility to oversee the implementation of the federal Safe Drinking Water Act. This Act includes the Lead and Copper Rule, which chemically treats the water to prevent leaching and ensure minimal consumption of lead and copper.
While the MassDEP did set actionable levels for lead and copper in their investigation, there is no proven safe level of lead exposure. Consumption of lead in any amount is dangerous for nervous system and cardiovascular health.
“Our message to the community was exposure was at minimal levels,” said Dr. Jackson. “If anyone did have concerns they should see their pediatrician.”