Water Fountains Shut Off at Some West Hartford Schools Due to Elevated Lead Levels

Wolcott Elementary School. Photo credit: Sofie Brandt (we-ha.com file photo)

West Hartford Superintendent of Schools Tom Moore sent a letter to parents on Friday advising them that the water fountains had been taken out of service.

Wolcott Elementary School. Photo credit: Sofie Brandt

Wolcott Elementary School has had 22 water fountains taken out of service due to lead detected in samples. Photo credit: Sofie Brandt

By Ronni Newton

West Hartford Public Schools began a proactive initiative to sample water from all of the water fountains in the district’s 17 school buildings last summer, testing for levels of lead, and based on initial results have taken 63 of those units out of service.

“Safe drinking water in homes is a topic that has been in the news, and I wanted to assure you that our commitment to the safety of our students includes environmental factors like this,” Superintendent Tom Moore wrote in a letter emailed to families in the district on Friday. West Hartford Public Schools worked in conjunction with the MDC and the Bloomfield-West Hartford Health District to perform the testing.

Every one of the water fountains that had a sample come back with levels above EPA standards was taken offline at the beginning of the school year, Assistant Superintendent Andy Morrow said Friday afternoon.

“This was done out of an overabundance of caution,” Morrow said. He said that the EPA guidelines permit 15 ppb (parts per billion) of lead in water.

The initial test on one of the water fountains at Wolcott Elementary School came back with a level of 37 ppb, he said, but that was during the summer when the water had not been run in months. Morrow said that a second and more sensitive test on that same water fountain indicated a level of 16 ppb. A third test on the same water fountain indicated no detectable lead.

The water fountains with detectable lead were at seven of the district’s schools, and were a variety of units – some new and some older models. Conard had two new units in the main gym taken offline, and Hall had one unit in the boys’ locker room.

There were 22 units at Wolcott taken out of service – all in classrooms. Aiken had 10, Bugbee had 13, Morley had 13, and there were two taken out of service at the Strive building on Wampanoag Drive.

“There is no history of this having happened in the past because there is no requirement to do this type of testing,” Morrow said. The district has always done lead screening of the incoming water supply, and that has not resulted in any elevated levels, he said.

Morrow said that they are working with the Bloomfield-West Hartford Health District and Plant and Facilities Director Bob Palmer to try to determine the cause of the elevated lead. It could be the units, but since some are brand new it may be the piping.

The water fountains, which are still in place but turned off, will not be turned back on until the cause can be found and remedied, Morrow said.

There are no building-wide issues.

“We were being proactive in identifying this and taking the water fountains offline to make sure the water is safe for our students and staff,” said Morrow. In some locations bottled water coolers have been added to ensure that there is enough water available to keep everyone hydrated.

Morrow reiterated what Moore wrote in Friday’s letter: “All water fountains that are currently in use at West Hartford Public Schools have been tested and are safe.”

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