2017-03-23 / Front Page

Water Fountains Now at Acceptable Lead Levels

The levels of lead in the water fountains at Middletown High School are now within acceptable range, School Supt. Rosemarie Kraeger told Newport This Week on Wednesday, March 22. The fountains were found to contain less than 15 parts per billion lead, which meets the Environmental Protection Agency guidelines for lead content in drinking water.

“We did get positive results back this morning,” Kraeger said. “The Newport Water Department is doing testing as well. We want to wait until that testing comes back. In the meantime, we are still using bottled water at the high school.”

In February, testing of the water fountains found higher than allowed levels of lead. The testing was done routinely as mandated by the state Department of Health. None of the other schools in the department had levels beyond the limit.

The elevated lead counts of 260 parts per billion may have originated from a water main on Valley Road. Lead joints in the line were likely the source, but it is too soon to know based on preliminary investigation.

In Newport, results from 12 samples collected in February showed four water fountains at Rogers High School exceeding 15 parts per billion lead, with eight samples taken at Pell Elementary School and Thompson Middle School within acceptable limits. The four water fountains with excessive lead levels have been taken out of service.

After the Newport School Committee meeting on Tuesday, March 21, Supt. Colleen Jermain told Newport This Week that a letter has been sent to parents. “There is no new information. We have started the flushing process, we are also going to change the filters,” she said.

In the letter sent to parents and posted to the One Newport app on Saturday, March 18, Rogers High School Principal Jeffrey Goss wrote, “In order to report to the Rhode Island General Assembly, the RIDOH, with assistance from the University of Rhode Island, is testing for lead in school drinking water fountains and faucets. This is being done to assure drinking water in schools is safe.”

All of the high school’s 10 fountains have been shut off and are covered with plastic bags. Jermain said the bubblers that tested high for lead content are ones “that students don’t use at all. The ones with low (lead) content are the fountains that are always used.”

She said she could not speak for the high lead readings in Middletown schools, except to say that they differ in cause. It is suspected that lead couplings or other piping is the cause of the high content in the neighboring town.

“Our problem is not being caused by what is coming into the building,” Jermain said.

Lead is not naturally found in water. Most lead found in drinking water is from lead leaching into the water from lead pipes, lead-based solder or plumbing, fittings and fixtures. In 1986, lead was prohibited for use in pipes, plumbing fixtures or solder in water systems.

Additional samples will be taken under the supervision of the Newport Water Lab. An assessment of the plumbing at Rogers High School will be conducted to implement control measures to reduce elevated lead levels. Protocols and procedures recommended are and will be followed until the situation is resolved.

Lynne Tungett, with staff reporting

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