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Slightly elevated lead levels found in water sources at elementary school

As with several other school districts in Chautauqua County, slightly elevated lead levels have been found in 13 sinks and water fountains in the elementary school of the Southwestern Central School District. Superintendent Maureen Donahue said the district received the state-mandated test results Thursday (Jan. 5, 2017) afternoon.


 “We immediately began following all regulations and protocols to remediate each of the sources of water,” said Donahue, noting the district was required to collect 196 samples total and anticipates a speedy resolution to the issue.


“DO NOT USE” signs have been placed on the 13 identified fountains and sinks, two of which were hose bibs that did not need to be tested. None of the sources will be put back into service until the sources are fully mitigated and meet the New York State Department of Health Standards.


Southwestern is the latest in a long line of school districts in the region to recently receive the concerning news of elevated lead levels in its water sources. New York State has a newly enacted law to protect public health requiring every school’s water be tested for lead. If lead is found at any outlet at levels above 15 parts per billion, action to reduce it must be taken.


Other school districts hit with elevated lead level results since the start of the 2016-2017 academic year include Ripley, Fredonia, Silver Creek, Forestville, Brocton, Gowanda, North Collins and Cassadaga. While the elevated lead levels are disappointing, Donahue said the district has been bracing and preparing to spring into action as news of other districts’ results spread in the county.


“Our corrective action plan is exhaustive,” said Donahue, who noted that in addition to immediately shutting off the contamination points and posting warning signs, an informational letter is being sent home to parents. “We can never be too careful when it comes to the health and safety of our students, staff and the entire school community.”


“The time table for remediation of each of the sources depends on the solutions,” said Donahue, noting that the issue may be resolved by replacing problem fixtures with new lead-free types or the district may need to explore other measures over the next several weeks before embarking on the process for retesting.


The district is still awaiting results for the middle school and high school and Donahue intends to share them with the community as soon as they are received.


“We know our students and their parents and our staff want as speedy a resolution as possible to this situation,” said Donahue. “And we’ll do whatever it takes to fix it in any of our school buildings.”


The Chautauqua County Department of Health and Human Services is aware of the situation at Southwestern and is available to answer questions from the public.