Boston Schools Show Elevated Lead Levels in Drinking Water

(Photo: Ali Moore, Creative Commons)

(Photo: Ali Moore, Creative Commons)

Unsafe levels of lead have been found in the drinking fountains at two public schools in Boston, causing officials to shut down the water fountains earlier in the week.

Of the 38 buildings within the Boston Public Schools system that have had their water tested so far, 28 have their results back.  For Thomas J. Kenny Elementary School in Dorchester and Rafael Hernandez K-8 School in Roxbury, the lead levels in their drinking fountains were found to be higher than the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection’s action safe level of 15 parts per billion.

In all, four drinking fountains at the Kenny school and one at the Hernandez school have been shut down.  BPS said in order to ensure water is still available for students at the school, water bottles are being distributed and families are being notified about test results.  The district expects to spend close to $415,000 during the school year in bottled water costs for two-thirds of the schools throughout the city in an effort to keep students safe from lead in the water.

“We’re testing the water in our schools and any water fountains that we find that there’s traces of lead in, we’re addressing the situation,” Boston Mayor Marty Walsh said Monday. “We’re addressing it immediately. We have a plan now to go through all our schools.”

The water levels at the schools must test below 15 parts per billion for three days in a row before the water fountains will be allowed to turn back on.

State law requires at least one drinking fountain to be available for every 75 students in kindergarten, elementary and secondary schools.  All fountains must be tested on an annual basis.

“We have some old pipes that come into our into our schools and we have to go back and fix those pipes. We cannot have our kids drinking water that has lead,” Walsh said.

A pilot program to repair old plumbing and install new fountains and bottle-filling stations at schools throughout the district was launched last year at a number of schools chosen due to having lead levels that were below state and federal standards.

However, more recent testing has shown elevated lead levels in some of the new fountains.

Richard Weir, spokesman for the School Department, said BPS is currently investigating why this is happening, adding that none of the new fountains will be activated until it is made clear why the tests are showing higher lead levels, writes Matt Rocheleau for The Boston Globe.

Boston Public Schools have released a statement on the subject, saying the health and well-being of students is their first priority.  “The district is committed to ensuring that students have access to clean, potable water in all of our schools.”

The statement went on to discuss past issues with lead in the drinking water that caused BPS to switch to the use of water bottles at all schools across the district.

In addition, it said that $300,000 plans for water fountain restoration is currently ongoing in schools throughout the district, which includes repairing and upgrading the plumbing.  District officials also said that all necessary steps are being taken to ensure that all new drinking fountains meet both state and federal standards.