High lead levels found in drinking water at some Vermont schools

Published: Feb. 6, 2018 at 6:39 AM EST
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Some school leaders in Vermont are making changes after lead levels higher than the recommendation were found in their schools.

This comes after 16 school superintendents signed up to have their water tested for lead by the Vermont Health Department.

Here’s how the testing works:

Lead levels are talked about in terms of parts per billion, or ppb. Members of the Vermont Health Department like to see changes made after a level of 1 ppb or more. The federal level set by the EPA is much higher at 15.

Schools in Vermont using public water are not required to have their water tested for lead regularly and are not required to fix high levels.

Barre City Elementary and Middle Schools participated in the program to have their water tested for lead, free of charge.

The two schools are among the largest in the state and have dozens of fountains and sinks inside. Water will be collected at all of those locations and sent to a lab for testing.

"It's worth it," said James Taffel, the principal of Barre Elementary. "It's not that much work."

A representative from the Vermont Health Department says some of the most common ways lead gets into water are from the pipes that carry the water, the solder around the pipes, or the faucets.

That's a bigger problem in buildings built before 1986.

Taffel says his school was built in 1995, so he's not as worried.

Brooke Olsen-Farrell, the superintendent of the Addison-Rutland Supervisory Union, says Castleton Elementary School has an older section of building.

The report for that elementary school shows nine sinks or fountains that tested above 15 ppb. The highest level was at 43.

More than a dozen others tested well above the health department's 1 ppb level.

"Anything that was over 1 ppb we are actually replacing," said Olsen-Farrell.

Olsen-Farrell says she now plans to test the five other buildings in her district.

"Because the levels were high at Castleton Elementary, we felt it was prudent and appropriate to do lead testing in our other buildings as well," said Olsen-Farrell.

Despite being a toxic metal, Michelle Thompson with the health department says they're not concerned children who drank the contaminated water have elevated lead levels because of the school's water.

"They would need to have other exposures at home from lead-based paint," said Thompson. "Seventy percent of the housing in Vermont is pre-1978 housing, so a major source of lead exposure in Vermont."

She says schools were given information to pass along to concerned parents.

What's unclear now is if the water flowing at the rest of Vermont's schools will be tested.

"We'll have to wait and see what all these results come back at and put together a report on whether to expand or recommend further testing," said Thompson.

She says so far, schools with problem spots have been on-board with fixing them.