Lead mitigation continues in Concord schools as new classes begin

By JAMIE L. COSTA

Monitor staff

Published: 08-30-2023 5:16 PM

Most water faucets that showed higher-than-allowed lead levels in the Concord School District earlier this year remained shut off on the first day of classes Wednesday.

Of nearly 1,000 samples taken, 26% of faucets and sinks tested district-wide came back positive for lead at levels at or above 5 parts per billion in May, including at Concord High School, Broken Ground School, Beaver Meadow School, Christa McAuliffe School, Mill Brook School, Rundlett Middle School and Abbot-Downing School, according to data shared on the school district’s website.

The district was left with three options: shut off water to the faucets, replace the fixtures or re-purpose the faucet to be used solely for hand-washing. So far, the school district has replaced 29 faucets that are still not in use and is waiting for parts to replace an additional 11, said Matt Cashman, director of facilities and planning.

Because of the time involved, most of the 266 faucets that initially tested positive remain offline.

This summer, the school district performed a second round of testing, while replacing and removing faucets and water fixtures in preparation for the start of the school year.

“We are in the throes of retesting and waiting for those numbers to come back and we anticipate them to be far less,” Cashman said.

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In the classrooms at the elementary schools, any contaminated faucets or sinks remain shut off, blocked and marked, he continued, while faucets and sinks at the middle and high schools have been temporarily converted into hand-washing stations.

“In the younger grades, we want to make sure there are no opportunities to get a sip of water out of a faucet until we conduct our full remediation and we are keeping them offline until we are guaranteed there is no risk of contamination,” Cashman said. “Students and teachers [at the middle and high schools] can get water from other places.”

The testing is part of an ongoing effort related to New Hampshire’s House bill 1421, passed in 2022, which requires schools and childcare facilities to test for lead in drinking water. The schools within Concord have not been required to test since 2019.

Ingested or swallowed in high quantities, lead can be damaging to the nervous system and particularly worse in children because they can absorb more lead. The impact could permanently damage a developing child’s brain.

Because lead is a naturally occurring element, it’s not found within the water itself but rather in the plumbing used to transport the water. Over time, the plumbing system begins to age and the water can pick up lead while moving through the pipes.

Replacing faucets is one of the first steps in the process of eliminating lead from the school district’s water supply and 70% to 75% of the time, it solves the issue, Cashman said. If, after the faucets are replaced, the sample tests show levels of 5 ppb or above, the school district will trace the plumbing farther into the building to find the source.

“I feel like we are in a pretty good position and we’re ready for school to start,” Cashman said. “But it could be another month, month and a half until the remaining tests are back.”

Water testing sample data completed showed higher-than-acceptable levels at the following schools. This data does not reflect the secondary round of testing for the middle and elementary schools and high school testing was recently completed and made public on Monday.

Concord High School: Samples were collected from 367 water outlets, with 96 (26.1%) showing lead levels at or above 5 ppb.

Abbot-Downing School: Samples were collected from 102 water outlets with two (1.9%) showing lead levels at or above 5 ppb.

Beaver Meadow School: Samples were collected from 88 water outlets with 43 (48%) showing lead levels at or above 5 ppb.

Broken Ground School: Samples were collected from 59 water outlets with seven (11.8%) showing lead levels at or above 5 ppb.

Christa McAuliffe School: Samples were collected from 92 water outlets with four (4.3%) showing lead levels at or above 5 ppb.

Mill Brook School: Samples were collected from 80 water outlets with two (2.5%) showing lead levels at or above 5 ppb.

Rundlett Middle School: Samples were collected from 203 water outlets with 102 (50.2%) showing lead levels at or above 5 ppb.

For additional information, contact 603-225-0811 or email Facilities Director Matt Cashman at mcashman@sau8.org.

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