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Water tests show elevated lead levels at middle and high schools

Test results received Tuesday (Jan. 24, 2017) by the Southwestern Central School District show elevated levels of lead at 26 potable water sources at the middle and high schools, according to Superintendent Maureen Donahue. Earlier this month the district reported that 13 sources at the elementary school also showed high lead levels.


The state-mandated lead testing was performed on 176 water sources at the two schools in October. Just more than two dozen samples showed lead concentrations above the state standard of 15 parts per billion. Sixteen out of 117 samples taken at the high school and 10 out of 59 samples taken at the middle school tested high. All of the contaminated sources are sinks.


“While disappointing, the elevated levels found at the high and middle schools weren’t wholly unexpected,” said Donahue. “We were prepared for this news after we got the results from the elementary school a few weeks ago. Two factors are at play here – our facilities are aging and the state recently implemented new standards for acceptable lead levels. We know upgrades are necessary to keep up with evolving requirements.”


To comply with state regulations, certain actions are required by the district, which has already prohibited use of the identified sinks until it has a remediation plan in place to mitigate the lead levels and further testing shows the levels are at or below 15 ppb. “Do Not Use” signs have been placed on all 26 sinks and none will be put back into service until they are fully mitigated and meet the New York State Department of Health Standards.


“We want to resolve this issue in an expeditious manner,” said Donahue. “We are working on a districtwide remediation plan and are looking forward to a solution that will show significantly lower levels of lead in our water sources.”


The district has posted the latest results on its website and is notifying staff and families in the school community in writing. If needed, the district will provide an adequate supply of potable water for drinking until successful remediation.


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. 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.


The Chautauqua County Department of Health and Human Services is aware of the lead results and can help address concerns from the public.


“Southwestern is eager to implement solutions and initiate the process for re-testing,” said Donahue. “We won’t be satisfied until we have data on hand showing all our water sources show lead levels below the acceptable limits.”