Stricter Lead Testing In School Fountains Detects 17 Problems

By Seth Daniel

The Chelsea Public Schools has conducted a laborious sampling of all the water fountains and faucets used for food preparation in its buildings this summer and found that 17 of 313 fixtures had levels above the limits.

The testing was reported by Supt. Mary Bourque on Wednesday morning and indicated that the schools have tested randomly every year throughout the schools over the last 20 years, but had never tested every fixture and, this year, had to test with newer, stricter standards.. This year, likely in light of the fountain problems discovered in Boston schools this past term, the Chelsea schools decided to conduct thorough tests using the new, stricter lead level standards recently adopted by the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).

“A total of 313 water samples have been recently tested,” wrote Bourque in a letter to parents that went out Thursday (today) morning. “While we are pleased to report that the Silber Early Learning Center, the Wright Academy, the Browne Middle School and Chelsea High School passed with no samples tested above the lead action level, the sampling did indicate that 17 fountains and sinks had lead levels that exceeded the Massachusetts action level for lead in drinking water.”

The problems were detected mostly at the Burke Complex. Those exceeding levels were at the following schools:

  • One water fountain and one sink at the Clark Avenue Middle School.
  • Two water fountains at the Kelly School.
  • Four water fountains at the Berkowitz School.
  • Four water fountains at the Hooks School.
  • Five water fountains at the Sokolowski School.

The problems at the school buildings, especially the Burke Complex, is a bit confounding due to the fact that it is such a new facility with fully updated plumbing. Bourque said an analysis has indicated that they don’t believe the water source is contaminated nor is the plumbing faulty.

“Because our schools are relatively new, and based on an analysis of our recent test results, we do not believe the internal school plumbing is contributing to lead levels,” she wrote. “We have also confirmed that our water source does not contain lead. The testing is indicating isolated instances of excessive lead levels which are likely caused by the installation of these faucets or water bubblers or the fixtures themselves…We will be replacing the fixtures identified above and retested before they are available for use.”

Bourque said the administration is taking the 17 problem fountains very seriously, and have taken five action steps to prevent the problem by the time school starts later this month.

First, the fixtures have been shut off and enclosed. Second, parents and school staff were notified. Third, the Chelsea School Committee and Board of Health were notified. Fourth, the fixture is evaluated by a licensed plumber to determine the source of the problem and the fixture is remediated or replaced.

Finally, the fixture is retested to determine if lead levels are below the new Massachusetts standards.

The letter describing the problems and the non-problems was sent out to parents and posted on the district’s online networks Thursday (today) morning, Aug. 11.

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