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‘There’s No Safe Level of Lead:’ Vermont Schools, Day Care Centers Undergoing Wave of Lead Tests

Some drinking fountains and sinks at schools and daycare facilities were found to have failed the state-mandated water testing

With a sweeping round of statewide lead tests now underway at Vermont schools and day care centers, some faucets and drinking fountains are getting failing grades.

“It’s kind of too bad, you know, that you have to worry about your kids going to school and what’s in their water,” said Trayce Judd of Orange. “But it’ll be good once they get it taken care of, and they shouldn’t have to worry about it again.”

Wednesday, state health and environmental leaders unveiled a new website where families can check on lead levels in their kids’ drinking water sources.

Under a new state law, every tap used for drinking or cooking in more than 1,600 Vermont day care facilities and schools must be tested by December 2020.

Lead is a neurotoxin that can cause developmental and behavioral problems in kids, explained Dr. Mark Levine, the commissioner of the Vermont Department of Health.

“There’s no safe level of lead in the human body, at any age,” Levine noted at a press conference in Montpelier.

Early findings are now publicly posted on a state website dedicated to drinking water test results.

Among the tests posted from facilities that were early to complete water tests, the Barre Town Elementary School discovered more than three-dozen sinks and water fountains that needed to be taken out of service this summer because they flunked the checks.

At the nearby Spaulding High School in Barre City, tests turned up nine problem fixtures, according to the lead results website.

That site will be updated as more results roll in from across the state, the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources said, and when locations take action to get their water sources into compliance.

Wednesday morning, ahead of our Wednesday evening broadcast and publishing deadline, necn asked the Barre Unified School District about its remediation efforts. However, Superintendent John Pandolfo was unable to respond until Thursday morning due to a series of previously-scheduled work obligations.

In an email, Pandolfo wrote that old classroom bubblers—which he said were rarely used anyway, because of the availability of new, chilled bubblers with filters—have been removed and will not be replaced. Finishing work to replace the plywood covering holes in classroom walls is underway, Pandolfo added.

Some of the other sinks that failed tests were physically disconnected, the superintendent said, and ones considered necessary will be replaced by the start of the school year, and retested. Other disconnected sinks that failed tests and are not considered necessary to school operations may be completely removed, Pandolfo said.

No sources that showed high lead levels have water flowing from them, Pandolfo assured the community.

In most cases, remediation is not extremely difficult, Natural Resources Secretary Julie Moore said.

“Lead is invisible,” Moore observed. “You can’t see it, you can’t taste it, and so this sort of testing is essential in understanding what’s going on in our drinking water supplies.”

The water itself isn’t the problem, Moore noted. Instead, it’s usually plumbing components in older buildings creating the risk, she said.

When even trace amounts are found—anything four parts per billion or higher—the state mandates faucets or bubblers be taken offline until fixes are made, and until new tests get the green light.

Gov. Phil Scott, R-Vermont, pointed out state standards are more stringent than federal guidelines.

“This should give Vermonters some sense of security knowing that we’re going to a different, a much stricter standard for detecting this,” Scott said.

Health Department numbers show last year, more than 400 Vermont kids under six years old were poisoned by lead. Paint from old homes is the most common source, but aging plumbing also contributes, Levine pointed out.

The state made a million dollars available to help schools and day care facilities with remediation aimed at keeping kids healthy.

For more information on lead testing in drinking water, visit the Vermont Health Department.

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