By Jason Starr
More than half the faucets and fountains at Champlain Valley Union High School have tested positive for elevated lead levels under new state standards enacted by the Legislature in 2019.
Act 66 set up a stricter definition of problematic lead levels and mandated testing statewide in an effort to rid schools and childcare facilities of lead. CVU’s water has been tested every three years under the less stringent standards of the federal Environmental Protection Agency.
The new tests were done in January across the Champlain Valley School District’s six schools. Results for CVU, Hinesburg Community School and Charlotte Community School came back in April. The district is still awaiting results for Williston Central School and Allen Brook School. At Hinesburg Community School, about a quarter of the faucets and fountains tested positive. In Charlotte, it was 20 percent. CVU had the highest rate of problematic fixtures at 63 percent.
The faucets and fountains that were identified by the tests have been labeled with “do not drink” signs or disabled, even though schools are currently closed to students. Through Act 66, state funds will cover fixes to the faucets by the start of the new school year, Champlain Valley School District Chief Operations Officer Jeanne Jensen said.
School administrators were surprised by the number of positive tests. Testing had been done in 2016 and 2019 under federal standards (15 parts per billion), with no positive results. The new state standard sets action levels at 4 parts per billion.
At CVU, 31 water outlets tested at greater than 4 parts per billion, and two tested at greater than 15 parts per billion. Testing last year showed no outlets at greater than 4 parts per billion.
“We were surprised to get dramatically different results,” Jensen said. “It’s disappointing because we had done our due diligence and it’s never been a problem, and all the sudden with these new tests, it’s a problem. We are just focused on fixing it.”
Two types of tests were done under guidance from the Agency of Natural Resources. One was a “first draw” test that captured water after turning on a fixture after at least eight hours of inactivity. That test captures lead content in the fixture. The second test is done after running the faucet for a period of time, which captures lead content in the pipes leading to the fixture.
The remedy for the first test is replacement of the fixture. The remedy for the second test is installation of a filter behind the fixture.
“We can’t really go through and replace all the pipes,” Jensen said.
The faucets and fountains that are fixed this summer will be tested again for lead before the new school year, she said.