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Massachusetts Funds Tests For Lead In Public Schools' Water

a water drinking fountain

Massachusetts is earmarking $2 million to test for lead in the drinking water in public school buildings across the state. 

Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Martin Suuberg said his agency will use the money to help schools test and analyze the water from drinking fountains in the hallways, as well as taps in cafeteria kitchens.

"  We recognize that some schools may need help, so this funding and this approach allows us to provide that help to them so they can investigate these issues," said Suuberg.

The DEP, working along with the state education department, plans to distribute application forms for the program to school administrators within a week.  Suuberg said priority would be given to older school buildings.

" More modern buildings are less likely to have lead problems, but older buildings with older plumbing connections that is the area we are making sure we are spending time on," he said.

The money for the program is coming from the Massachusetts Clean Water Trust. The funding should be enough to pay for water tests in 1,750 schools, according to the DEP.

" We're fairly confident we can make significant progress with this $2 million investment," said Suuberg.

Concern about lead in drinking water has grown across the country as a result of the crisis in Flint, Michigan. Lead poisoning can cause serious problems in children including brain damage.

Governor Charlie Baker said in a statement, “Protecting the health of our children is a top priority. By proactively offering this critical assistance, we can ensure that all students and parents across the Commonwealth are in a safe environment where they can learn and grow.”

Joel Wool, an activist with Clean Water Action, praised the Baker administration for making the money available for schools to test water for lead.

" We have to test as soon as possible in these schools," said Wool. " We have to be vigilant to make sure we are getting safe drinking water for every child in every school and that we are willing to fund that and we are willing to make the replacement."

Boston Public School officials announced that recent testing had discovered high lead levels in the water in four school buildings.

Springfield, where the average age of the public school buildings is 55 years, began testing the drinking water in some schools for lead and other contaminants last December, according to Azell Cavaan, the school department’s communications director.

" They are looking at a really thorough battery of tests and to date there have been no areas of concern found," said Cavaan.

Lead was discovered in the water at two schools in Granby last February, according to a letter that was sent to parents by school officials.

Paul Tuthill is WAMC’s Pioneer Valley Bureau Chief. He’s been covering news, everything from politics and government corruption to natural disasters and the arts, in western Massachusetts since 2007. Before joining WAMC, Paul was a reporter and anchor at WRKO in Boston. He was news director for more than a decade at WTAG in Worcester. Paul has won more than two dozen Associated Press Broadcast Awards. He won an Edward R. Murrow award for reporting on veterans’ healthcare for WAMC in 2011. Born and raised in western New York, Paul did his first radio reporting while he was a student at the University of Rochester.
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