A recent report from MassPIRG and Environment Massachusetts gave the state a “D” for its efforts to get lead out of school’s drinking water. But officials say the Springfield Public Schools deserve a much higher grade.
When the Baker administration announced in 2016 that money was available for schools to test water for lead and copper, the Springfield Public Schools went all in.
" We were very proactive on this," said Superintendent of Schools Dan Warwick.
He said a program was developed to test the water in all 54 school buildings, identify water fixtures that exceeded U.S. Environmental Protection Agency action levels for lead and cooper, and take steps to protect students and staff from ingesting the potentially harmful water.
An environmental contractor was hired and between December 2016 and June 2017 more than 7,000 samples were collected from water fountains, faucets used for food preparation in cafeterias (including steamers, kettles and ice makers), and all faucets located in classrooms, staff lounges, and nurses’ offices.
Water from less than 3 percent of the fixtures was found to exceed the EPA thresholds. When the fixtures were “flushed” by allowing the water to run for 30 seconds, the samples that exceeded EPA limits fell to 0.5 percent.
Just 17 drinking fountains and one kitchen tap could not be brought into compliance by daily flushing first thing in the morning and were permanently shut off. Sixteen schools had no water samples that tested above the danger level.
Warwick said the test results were posted on the school department’s website, a letter was sent home with children, and meetings were held with parents to go over the tests and explain the remediation steps.
" Parents were relieved this was not really an issue for us," said Warwick.
The superintendent praised the city’s facilities division, led by director Patrick Sullivan, and Assistant Director of School Buildings John Carignan for devising and overseeing the water testing program.
" Springfield's average age of facilities is 55 years old, so they've done an incredible job on all of our facilities making sure they are up to snuff," said Warwick.
Sullivan said the long term goal is to eliminate all the drinking water fixtures from schools that exceed the EPA limits.
"We don't feel this is really a high risk issue," said Sullivan when it comes to prioritizng school repairs.
A new round of water testing in the schools is underway and results are expected sometime this summer.
According to the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection schools in 153 of the state’s 351 cities and towns participated in the voluntary water testing program.
Springfield City Councilor Jesse Lederman, who chairs the council’s Health and Human Services Committee said the Springfield schools deserve kudos for seizing the initiative on water testing.
"Certainly what we want to see is as close to a zero count as possible, because we know from the medical community that any exposure to lead can be dangerous," said Lederman. "I think the school department is taking the proper steps and precautions."
Lederman said he will ask the full City Council to endorse a bill that has been filed in the state legislature that would mandate testing for lead in school drinking water and provide money to replace fixtures that are the source of the contamination.
" I saw a qoute from one of the groups ( that released the water testing report card) that if this legislation were to pass we would have an 'A'," said Lederman.
Gov. Charlie Baker has included $30 million in his proposed state budget for water testing in schools.