Water quality testing tops South Hadley TM agenda

  • Pouring water into glass on a blue background Hyrma

Staff Writer
Published: 5/6/2018 11:24:15 PM

SOUTH HADLEY — A more stringent testing protocol for lead in drinking water and borrowing to design and advertise bids for a new senior center are among dozens of articles to be addressed at South Hadley’s annual and special Town Meetings on Wednesday.

With a projected operating budget of $45,120,999 for the 2019 fiscal year, South Hadley is in the unique position of having annual operating expenses decrease, Town Administrator Michael Sullivan said, possibly because the town entered an accelerated debt payment program and finished paying for the new Plains School.

Lead in the water

At a Select Board meeting Tuesday night, passionate debate arose about the need to better monitor lead levels in municipal buildings’ drinking water, especially in the public schools. The issue, residents said, is that some faucets in the school have tested positive for lead, but no follow-up testing has been done and no protocol is in place for how to address the issue.

“We know that our water departments are providing top-quality water, but it travels a really long way before it comes out of those faucets,” Select Board member Sarah Etelman said.

The new bylaw, proposed by Article 11 would require the town to “annually test water in public buildings and other municipal facilities using a third party.”

Currently, municipal buildings are required to be tested every three years by the respective water districts, according to Mark Aiken, superintendent of Water District No. 1.

“We have a zero tolerance for lead in drinking water,” Aiken said. “What I’d like to see is instead of testing the water, you’re testing the fixture, the soder, you’re testing the interior pipes from the buildings. We know that the lead is not coming from the water.”

Vernon Blodgett Jr., a commissioner with the South Hadley Electric Light Department, spoke on behalf of a group of citizens concerned with South Hadley’s water quality.

“The health risks posed to children by elevated levels of lead and copper in drinking water are so great that South Hadley should not delay considering this article,” Blodgett said.

After a sink in the Mosier Street School was tested for lead in 2014 and found to be well above acceptable limits, a warning was placed above the sink and no additional testing was done for two years. In 2016 the taps were tested again, and came back positive for lead, but below the acceptable threshold. However, documentation suggests this test was performed in the evening, when levels are generally lower.

Another test at the Plains School in 2016 showed lead level exceeding maximum allowable levels by about five times from one tap.

“To my knowledge, none of the water that is inside the classrooms that the children drink the most has been tested at all,” said Select Board clerk Andrea Miles. “We’re not actually testing where the children are coming into contact with the water most, so that’s why this article seeks to get a baseline test of every single tap, to take corrective action.”

According to data collected by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health in 2016, about 2 percent of South Hadley children had elevated blood lead levels, defined as being between 5 and 9 micrograms per deciliter, prior to entering school. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, even levels below 5 micrograms can cause cognitive impairment in children.

This year, the South Hadley Public School system has applied for a state grant to test more taps for lead in school buildings.

The bylaws would place the Board of Health in charge of all water quality testing in the town, responsible for ensuring health and safety standards are met on an annual basis. The subsequent Article 12 proposes transferring $10,000 from unreserved free cash to the Board of Health to begin water testing in the 2019 fiscal year.

Senior center

Article 14 on the Town Meeting warrant calls for borrowing $9.8 million to design and construct a new senior center at 47 Dayton St.

At Tuesday’s Select Board meeting, members decided to make a motion at the Town Meeting to borrow $600,000 to cover pre-construction costs and the design and preparation of a bid for potential contractors

“The current building is 93 years old, not handicapped- accessible, and has limited parking,” Council on Aging Director Leslie Hennessey said in an email.

The project will not be funded through a tax override, Hennessey said, as the council plans to borrow a $9.8 million capital project bond and make up any extraneous costs with fundraising.

Other articles

Other expenses to be voted on at the special Town Meeting include $210,300 to pay the deficit for the snow removal budget and $25,000 to balance the Ledges Golf Course end-of-year account. Two companies, International Golf Management, and Billy Casper, submitted bids to operate the course by the April 30 deadline.

The special Town Meeting begins at 6 p.m. Wednesday in the Town Hall Auditorium, followed immediately by the annual Town Meeting.

Sarah Robertson can be reached at srobertson@gazettenet.com.

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