Leading the way on lead

  • A water fountain that tested positive for lead in 2017 at the now vacant Green River School. Recorder File Photo/Paul Franz

Staff Writer
Published: 3/12/2019 11:16:52 PM

GREENFIELD — Local health agent Glen Ayers is trying to position the city to snag state money that could be used to eliminate any lead remaining in the public schools’ water system. 

While the city has routinely been staying ahead of state guidelines on how to tackle unhealthy levels of lead and copper in the water — oftentimes found in sinks from custodial closets that rarely are used — Ayers is rallying city support to move forward faster. 

“If we do our planning and preliminary work ahead of time,” Ayers said, “I think we’ll be in good shape to get some funding.” 

A bill in the Legislature could distribute $20 million across the state to improve the safety of public drinking water, according to Ayers, who is working as a city health agent.

State Rep. Paul Mark, D-Peru, a co-sponsor of the bill, said “the fixes set forth in this bill seem like common sense avenues to help out.”

“The health of our children should be important to everyone in our community,” Mark said. High levels of lead or copper have been shown to be dangerous to human health, especially to young children whose brains are still developing.

The law, if enacted, would set more stringent rules around drinking water safety in schools and child care centers. It will lead to more drinking water stations, where people can fill up their bottles with filtered water. It will also call for the replacement of lead-containing fixtures. The bill will also require more data on the health of the drinking water to be more readily and routinely available to the public. And it provides money for the fixes.

Ayers was a part of the grassroots effort in recent years to move this policy along, but it failed the last time. Now, after being worked out by a group within Beacon Hill, Ayers sees it much more likely to succeed. 

Mark said that many lawmakers are co-sponsoring the bill, which “indicates a good amount of support.” The bill has been sent to a joint committee but has not had a hearing yet. 

Ayers said he hopes the bill could pass by this summer. 

“I would like the town to be prepared,” Ayers said. “Let’s make sure we can get ahold of those problems so we can fix those problems.” 

Board of Health Chairman Steve Adam said while the city has done a quality job addressing the issue, it’s important to continue to work in tandem with the state.  

“We don’t want to be on our own,” Adam said, pointing to the desire to ensure government funding to help address any issues required by the bill. “We want to be on the forefront.”

Attending a recent Board of Health meeting on the issue were Greenfield school officials, including Superintendent Jordana Harper, and Greenfield Department of Public Works Director Marlo Warner. 

“I appreciate the attention on this,” Harper said. “I want to commend the DPW and our folks to voluntarily take this on and be on the forefront.” 

Warner said according to public works records, there are no lead water lines left in Greenfield. It’s been an initiative he said they have been working to be out in front of. 

“We threw away thousands and thousands of dollars of (lead-related) brass (fittings) when that no-lead rule came out,” Warner said, “years ahead of when it went into effect.” 

Ayers mentioned it’s possible the city could receive reimbursement from the state for some of what it spent previously on fixing lead issues ahead of time. 

“The goal should be to remove all sources of exposure to lead,” Ayers said. “I happen to feel when it comes to children and the next generation, we should be doing everything they can to make sure they have the protections necessary.” 

Looking back

Two years ago, 25 water fixtures in the Greenfield Public Schools were ruled 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, or 2.5 percent, did not meet standards under “worst case scenario” circumstances from the March 2017 tests.

After flushing out the system by letting the water run to allow any built-up 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 currently vacant Green River School, then home of the Math and Science Academy. 

The school spent about $4,500 for replacements. It is the fixtures and not the piping or the town’s water that is the problem, then-Greenfield Director of Public Works Director Donald Ouellette said.

Greenfield’s Department of Public Works typically tested the city’s water annually. In 2017, DPW said the city tests 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. Currently, Greenfield tests annually, again. 

Countywide, about 3 percent of lead samples came back with a reading over the legal limit while about 5 percent of copper samples came back with a reading over the legal limit.

From the state study, 73 percent of schools had at least one fixture that tested for lead. Just over a quarter of schools in the state had neither an excess of lead nor copper.

You can reach Joshua Solomon at:

jsolomon@recorder.com

413-772-0261, ext. 264


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