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Lead in Some Portsmouth School Water Outlets Test Above NH Standards

PORTSMOUTH — The city school district will retest water outlets throughout all its schools after 41 taps were found to have elevated lead levels by the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services.

Superintendent Zach McLaughlin told Portsmouth School Board members Tuesday all city school water outlets will be tested again after lead levels above the state standard of five parts per billion were discovered. None of the affected outlets were drinking water filling stations, he said, though some were water bubblers.

Four of the affected outlets are bubblers while the majority are classroom water lines.

“The bubblers that I mentioned here are old-school, lean over, back-in-the-day water bubblers,” McLaughlin said.

All water outlets that tested higher than the lead standard will be replaced after the retesting process is completed, McLaughlin added.

In 2019, just one SAU 52 water outlet — a sink in the New Franklin School music room — tested higher than the standard state lead testing level, which at the time was 15 parts per billion, according to the school district. That figure remains the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s lead testing standard today, unlike in New Hampshire, where it was lowered to five. The New Franklin sink was removed.

However, McLaughlin shared his hypothesis the recent testing levels may not be accurate due to the timing of when the samples were taken. He noted that the state Department of Environmental Services advises that water outlets should sit untouched for eight to 18 hours before samples are taken. The most recent samples were taken in August, when many of the water outlets had been stagnant for a month-and-a-half, McLaughlin added.

“As we were working on it, very quickly as we started looking at the data, I became reasonably suspicious that our newest data may not be accurate,” he told the School Board on Tuesday. “It didn’t look like it would make sense that there would be that much movement forward on the levels of lead that would be present in our systems.”

Nineteen of the water outlets from the August sampling tested “below (the) reporting limit” in 2019, before the state’s parts per billion standard was reduced. Among the 41 outlets outlined in McLaughlin’s report, the testing range spans from 5.5 parts per billion to 180 parts per billion.

“My hope is that as we take these couple steps, as we do retesting, a bunch of these are going to come off the board to start,” he said. “And then the few that are an issue at the 5 parts per billion level will be resolved throughout the (remediation) changes.”

Portsmouth school principals were notified of the elevated lead testing levels by the Department of Environmental Services on Nov. 29. Each school had at least one water outlet with elevated lead testing levels.

The department instructed the district to block off those water outlets, communicate the news to parents and guardians within five business days, create a remediation plan and submit it to department officials, and remediate and retest all water outlets.

The superintendent wrote in his report for Tuesday’s meeting all affected outlets have been either wrapped up and are unavailable for use or have been labeled for handwashing only.

“We believe that this work should be completed in weeks as opposed to months,” he wrote.

Source: Seacoastonline