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Greenport replacing 19 water taps after finding traces of lead

A water quality test recently performed at Greenport schools found that 19 of the district’s water fountains and sinks contained traces of lead, district officials announced Tuesday.

Superintendent David Gamberg said in an interview Wednesday all of the building’s 66 drinking water sources were tested in June, with 19 sources having lead levels above the Environmental Protection Agency’s standards.

“The first order of business — the minute we got the results — was to shut everything down so water doesn’t continue to flow,” he said. “[We do that] until the proper fixture replacement occurs and then we resume the use of it once we retest it and determine that it’s safe.”

In addition to immediately shutting down those 19 faucets, Mr. Gamberg said the district will also be disconnecting all of the building’s water fountains and replacing them with water bottle filling stations.

On Tuesday, the school board approved using the district’s repair reserve account to replace 13 fixtures, he said.

While an amount hasn’t been approved since the district is still in the process of securing a work contract, Mr. Gamberg said he believes the water fountain replacement project will be completed prior to the start of the school year.

The remaining lead-contaminated sources will no longer be used and “abandoned,” he added.

“The assistant director for plans and facilities knows the building, knows which areas are not really being used anyway, so it doesn’t pay to replace or repair them,” he said. “We will ensure all water that will be used come the start of school will be properly filtered and tested as negative.”

Currently, the school has nine filtered water bottle filling stations throughout the building — all which tested negative for traces of lead, he added.

Enviroscience Consultants, Inc., an environmental consulting and testing agency hired by the district, collected samples through a three-step process, according to a letter posted on the district’s website.

The process included testing from an initial water draw, which means not allowing the water to run prior to taking the sample, then a 15-second draw and finally a 60-second draw, or flush test, which means collecting a sample after allowing water to flow through the system, the letter states.

Currently, school districts are not mandated to conduct testing of water sources for lead.

As a national discussion about water quality — specifically in relation to lead levels — grew in the aftermath of the water crisis in Flint, Mich., Greenport and other local school districts began looking internally, testing their own water for the hazardous metal.

Mr. Gamberg, who is also superintendent of the Southold school district, said a water test has been conducted and the district is awaiting those results.

Over at the Mattituck-Cutchogue school district, business manager Michael Engelhardt confirmed 31 samples were tested in May — 11 at the high school and 20 at the elementary school. Those results all came back negative for levels of lead that exceed the EPA standard, he added.

The status of a water quality test at Oysterponds Elementary School wasn’t immediately available.

Four out of Riverhead school district’s 250 taps tested positive for having traces of lead above the EPA’s standards and a water quality test at the Shoreham-Wading River school district found five samples also contained lead.

Both districts are in the process of replacing those water sources and expect work to be completed prior to the start of the school year.

The EPA currently recommends that action be taken to address water sources containing more than 20 parts per billion of lead, according a letter the Greenport school district posted on its website.

The EPA states that ingesting lead can be detrimental to both children and adults, although it’s significantly more harmful to children.

“In children, low levels of exposure have been linked to damage to the central and peripheral nervous system, learning disabilities, shorter stature, impaired hearing, and impaired formation and function of blood cells,” according to the agency’s website.

Lead exposure can also cause anemia, slowed growth and hearing, and behavior and learning problems in children. A pregnant woman with high levels of lead in her bloodstream can experience premature birth or reduced growth of the fetus, the EPA says.

Adults exposed to lead can suffer from decreased kidney function and reproductive problems.

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