Waterbury, CT: Source of Lead in Elementary School Still a Mystery


    Four separate water fountains in Waterbury’s Welsh Elementary School tested positive for lead in March, above the EPA’s actionable level. The fountains internal plumbing was the suspected source.

    “They were immediately disconnected, so the water supply in, and the fountains were no longer in use. We purchased brand new water fountains,” Robert Brenker, of the Waterbury Public Schools said

    The four new fountains were then retested on May 9, but two of the four still tested above the EPA’s actionable level. The school was instructed to run the water for five minutes each morning, and bottled water was provided to the cafeteria. Test after two minutes of running fell below the EPA’s limits.

    “The amount of lead that was in that sample is not enough to cause a health hazard to anyone,” Brenker added.

    The CDC website states:  “Lead is a pervasive environmental contaminant,” and “no safe blood lead threshold in children has been identified.”

    Even if levels test above or below “actionable” levels, it’s arbitrary. The Bureau of Water posted “Waterbury’s tap water met, and was often better than all National Primary Drinking Water Regulations,” but at Welsh elementary school, continued tests varied. Even though the new fountains are lead free certified. Brenker explained

    “The results came back weird—some were below and some were above,” Brenker said. “It doesn’t make sense.”

    Thomas Van Stone Sr. from the board of education said, “it’s not just the school. If it’s infrastructure, those neighborhoods may have concerns also and we don’t check that.”

    Van Stone is requesting an outside agency conduct some tests. One fountain was permanently removed and water was collected on Oct. 3. The latest samples came back below allowable limits.

    Ray Van Egas is a chemist who performs Water Quality testing for the city, and assists the Health department with testing city schools. Van Egas informed me that Waterbury is following all state and federal regulations which includes testing water quality in 50 residential homes every three years. The latest testing cycle was 2017, and two of the 50 homes tested above the EPA actionable lead levels. The source of the contamination was local plumbing in both cases.

    Homes are the primary source of lead poisoning in the northeast, but it’s not usually the water.

    “It’s not water here in Connecticut, It’s really older housing. We have very old housing stock. And most children are exposed through dust in their home settings,” Dr. Carl Baum, Director of the Yale Regional Lead Treatment Center said

    Older wood windows were commonly painted with lead paint before the 1970’s, and in a home they can chip and create dangerous dust.

    “I think we’ve been, as a district, much more progressive than we need to be, but we’re going continue to do that,” Mayor Neil M. O’Leary said. “Listen, we’ve got an aging infrastructure here—in all of New England, not just Waterbury, Conn. So we have a very, very, very good water department who monitors the water daily, and I think that we’re on top of it. I think we will continue to be very progressive, to give everyone a high level of comfort that we’re watching it.”

    City Officials may test the new fountain that was removed by hooking it up in different locations. Waterbury has the option of installing filters if the school or outside pipes are found to be the source.

    Flint, MI was under control of a city manager, the entire city was poisoned with lead by not properly maintaining the corrosive barrier in the old, lead tainted pipes.

    If you want more independent reporting like this, please support ERIC and TATM with a donation– Every $1 helps us grow!