Lead, copper levels shut down Norris school water taps

  • Kindergarten students from Pauline Webster's class walk to the school bus to see what it is like the day before the first day of school Tuesday, Aug. 30, at William E. Norris School in Southampton. Gazette Staff/Andrew Whitaker

Published: 2/14/2017 11:51:35 PM

SOUTHAMPTON — Water faucets at William E. Norris School have been shut down after recent test results revealed samples contained traces of elevated lead and copper levels that exceed state regulations.

The school is providing bottled water to students and staff and taps have been turned off, officials said in a letter to the school community announcing the recent sampling results.

The results came from a voluntary state program calling for increased water testing that aims to allow officials to identify and remove plumbing fixtures that may be leaching lead or copper into drinking water.

The recent lead and copper sampling found that one tap had exceeded state lead levels requiring action to fix the problem, while other taps — the letter did not specify how many — exceeded state and federal copper levels that require corrective measures. The maximum permissible level for lead in drinking water is 0.015 milligrams per liter and the level for copper in drinking water is 1.3 milligrams per liter.

“Lead is not believed to be in our water source but plumbing and fixtures in our buildings may contain lead, resulting in an increase in the lead content in tap water,” Superintendent Craig Jurgensen and Principal Aliza Pluta wrote in the letter. “Exposure to lead is a concern because lead is a toxic metal that has a range of adverse health effects.”

Copper is also not believed to be in the water source but plumbing and fixtures in the school buildings may contain copper. Copper is a necessary micronutrient and is needed in “trace” amounts for good health. But too much copper in the diet or in drinking water may cause health problems.

“The administration takes these results very seriously and is moving immediately to safeguard the health of the students, faculty and staff,” Jurgensen and Pluta wrote.

Jurgensen said even though many of the taps that failed the sampling tests are not used often, school officials still made the decision to turn off taps for the time being.

The school is implementing a flushing and water use plan to safeguard against lead and copper exposure from drinking water at outlets that are found to be above the action levels for lead and copper.

This includes daily flushing of water fountains and faucets at sinks, and the limitation of water consumption to cold-water faucets for food and beverage preparation, the letter states. The plan also includes routine water testing of these taps.

While the town of Southampton is the source of the school’s water supply, Jurgensen said the town undergoes regular testing.

The recent in-depth sampling of all the taps at the Norris School was done through the assistance program through Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection and University of Massachusetts Amherst.

Gov. Charlie Baker and state Treasurer Deb Goldberg launched the Assistance Program for Lead in School Drinking Water in 2016 to help public schools test for lead and copper in drinking water. The effort is funded by $2 million from the Massachusetts Clean Water Trust.

“We will undertake efforts to determine the cause of this lead and copper Action Level exceedance and evaluate the adequacy of our existing corrosion control system,” the letter states.

Other school districts in western Massachusetts, including Amherst and Granby, have had elevated levels of lead and copper in drinking water.

Caitlin Ashworth can be reached at cashworth@gazettenet.com.

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