High levels of lead found in water at three Cumberland schools

Blackstone Valley
Close-up pouring water into glass on a blue background_436073

Close-up pouring water into glass on a blue background

CUMBERLAND, R.I. (WPRI) Three schools in the Cumberland School District have reported high levels of lead in their water — Garvin Elementary School, McCourt Middle School and John J. McLaughlin Elementary School.

Joseph Wendelken, Public Information Officer for the Rhode Island Department of Health, tells Eyewitness News the department wants to avoid any exposure to any amount of lead.

In 2016, the General Assembly passed a law requiring the R.I. Department of Health to test lead levels in schools statewide. That process is ongoing.

“Right now, we’ve gotten samples back from 21 cities and towns, which is about 550 samples all together,” Wendelken explained.

He said the vast majority of the samples taken have been below the Environmental Protection Agency’s action level of 15 parts per billion. But, 16 Rhode Island schools have been above the action level, including the three in Cumberland.

In Cumberland, several sources of water in each of the district’s school buildings were tested. In the three schools mentioned, a kitchen faucet and water fountain were two of the locations where higher than normal levels were found. We asked the department for specific level ratings taken in the three schools, but representatives were unable to provide us that information.

“In those instances, the department of health is providing guidance to those schools so that they can communicate with parents to better understand what’s happening,” Wendelken said.

In response to the high levels at Garvin, McCourt and John J. McLaughlin, Cumberland’s Superintendent Robert Mitchell sent out an email to parents in the district. It reads in part, “We have been in contact with health officials. We have learned that short term remediation such as cleaning or changing the aerators on faucets, and flushing the pipes or faucets, generally results in lower lead levels on subsequent tests. However, our long term remediation plan includes replacing fixtures.”

Currently, the district has shut off all access to water in the three schools’ fountains and faucets.

“Until the water can be tested again, we have turned off the water fountains and supplied bottled water to the schools in question… We will be cleaning the faucets, flushing the pipes, and retesting the water at those schools next week,” reads the statement from Superintendent Mitchell.

Wendelken told Eyewitness News many times when schools report high levels of lead, it’s because the buildings pipes haven’t been flushed recently. In most cases, he says, flushing and retesting will result in normal lead levels.

The department of health also noted that no child in Rhode Island has ever reported elevated lead levels in the blood due to a water supply. The main carriers of high lead levels in the Ocean State are paints and dust found in older buildings.

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