Town testing schools’ water to comply with state mandate

Town testing schools’ water to comply with state mandate

CUMBERLAND – Chris Champi said this week he won’t be surprised to find traces of lead turning up in at least some of the water samples the Cumberland Water Department will be collecting in schools this month.

The Water Department director is pointing out that the testing procedure mandated by last year’s General Assembly is as rigorous as possible – small samples of water that have been sitting stagnant overnight inside decades-old school plumbing.

Supt. Bob Mitchell notified parents this week that Cumberland, like every community across Rhode Island, is responding to 2016 legislation that requires a look at the water kids drink everyday in school.

“This is not cause for alarm,” he said in a letter to parents. “Testing is a routine way to learn about the safety of our drinking water.”

The mandate for statewide water testing was set into motion by former Rep. Eileen Naughton after the Flint, Mich., water crisis.

The 2016 legislation requires “baseline copper and lead testing of the water supply systems of each local government as well as in public schools and licensed daycare facilities.”

Champi explains that lead can enter drinking water when service pipes containing lead corrode. The most common problem is with brass or chrome-plated brass faucets and fixtures with lead solder.

It’s not the drinking fountains but the water lines connected to them that are the culprit, Champi said.

If there’s a problem, Champi says, the fix might require nothing more than inserting a filter in the line leading into a water fountain, or a device that automatically flushes lines every morning before school starts.

“I’ve got a feeling it won’t be a huge problem to fix,” Champi said.

According to the procedures laid out in the bill, two fountains, or bubblers as New Englanders call them, along with a food preparation sink must be tested in every school.

Champi, who has employees accustomed to frequent sample-taking, says he’s had several meetings with Mitchell to lay down a plan for Cumberland.

He said the town is allowed to select the most frequently used bubblers in each school, but he wants one sample per school from the bubbler that the fewest number of kids are using.

The food preparation sink will be the one already designated by the Department of Health, he said.

His staff, which regularly draws water samples to test the town’s water for bacteria and chemical levels, will arrange to get the samples before each school day begins.

He’s hoping to collect and submit those samples soon, before the wave of hundreds of samples hits University of Rhode Island from around the state. Samples are due by April.

Mitchell told parents that results will be released as soon as they are available and will be posted on the Department of Health website.

Cumberland’s Water Department samples 30 home residences for lead every three years, says Champi, routinely turning up results that fall far below the “action level” lead count of 15 parts per billion.

In 2014, half of the home samples detected no lead – including at least nine in homes older than 30 years – and the others were below the “action level,” coming in around 7 parts per billion.

The results are listed on the regular reports on bacteria and chemical levels mailed to town water customers. Residential lead level testing – which takes testers into selected homes – are due again this year.