Test reveals contaminants in some Greenfield school water

  • A water fountain that tested positive for lead at the Math and Science Academy, the former Green River School, March 20, 2017. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz—Paul Franz

Recorder Staff
Tuesday, March 21, 2017

GREENFIELD — Twenty-five water fixtures in the Greenfield Public Schools are off-limits after a state-funded test revealed lead or copper levels above legal limits.

School and town officials reported that 25 of 1,018 water fixtures did not meet set standards under “worst case scenario” circumstances.

The drinking water is safe at all public schools, officials said, and all needed precautions were taken within 24 hours of these results.

“We worked as quickly as we could to turn around the results and really analyze what it means,” School Superintendent Jordana Harper said.

After flushing out the system by letting the water run to allow any built-up residue to clear out, two of the problem fixtures still came back above the legal limits. Both of those fixtures, one of which is a water fountain, were at the Green River School, home of the Math and Science Academy. How far over the limit the two fixtures were was not readily available.

All 25 fixtures were shut down when the school received the results about two weeks ago. The school will now spend approximately $4,500 for replacements. It is the fixtures and not the piping or the town’s water that is the problem, Director of Public Works Director Donald Ouellette said.

“We’re clearly not Flint, Mich.,” Ouellette said. “We test all the time for leads and copper throughout the town.”

He referenced the city in Michigan where the water had severe levels of lead.

The school superintendent, facilities manager Alan Schmidt, Ouellette and Mayor William Martin penned a letter to the school community last week stating the results of this test and informing parents not to be concerned.

“We’re overreacting to it, but if we didn’t overreact to it, we’d be wrong,” Ouellette said.

Typically, Greenfield’s Department of Public Works tests town water annually. In recent years, the town has tested every other year because the state loosens testing periods for places that do not appear to have issues. If there was a potential issue, the state would have the area tested twice a year.

Ouellette said his department tests about 80 fixtures across town, 14 of which are in the public school system: one kitchen fixture and one drinking fountain per school. The data the school provided indicates that 2.5 percent of fixtures in the school system did not pass.

“I just want to stress this was trying to find a needle in a haystack and they found a needle but it’s with extremely minute levels,” Ouellette said.

In prior years, the school has always passed its tests. Most of the 25 fixtures that did not pass, officials said, were not used regularly. Some fixtures were old and some of those were porcelain fixtures.

“The one in that one classroom in Federal Street, you look at it, you go ‘wow, that looks like something that’s been around for a while,’” Schmidt said.

The fixtures that failed could have conceivably been problematic for a couple of decades, Ouellette and Schmidt said, and may not have been tested during annual samplings.

Ouellette said if people are concerned, they can get a blood test and ask for it to be tested for lead levels.

From the state

A state grant made it possible for the school system to test all fixtures during this round of testing. In April 2016, Gov. Charlie Baker and State Treasurer Deb Goldberg announced a $2 million grant from the Massachusetts Clean Water Trust to work in public schools across the state.

“We didn’t know what the situation was out there,” said Ed Coletta, a spokesman for the state’s Department of Environmental Protection.

The DEP spokesman reported that 539 of 813 schools that reported back to date had at least one case of excessive lead levels in its system — or about 73 percent of schools. As for copper, 242 schools reported at least one incident. Out of all schools that reported back to the state agency, 28 percent had neither an excess of lead or copper.

The spokesman said any school built after 1985 should not have lead problems because of federal regulations. The two schools that Harper and Schmidt cited as not having any issues were Greenfield Middle School and Greenfield High School.

The town will also spend $5,200 to fix water fixtures across Greenfield, such as old drinking fountains in the library and town hall, and will likely help fund this by ending its contract with Poland Spring that amounts to about $4,000, Ouellette said. Instead, the town will install new fixtures and water refill stations with newer technology.

You can reach
Joshua Solomon at:


​413-772-0261, ext. 264