READING - After three years of exhaustively cataloging and testing every public water source in town, officials have completed a major lead and copper testing initiative and determined that all public schools and buildings have safe drinking water.
The project was undertaken by the town’s water, facilities and school departments starting in 2016 in order to comply with the Lead Contamination Control Act. The departments worked together to create an LCCA plan that would map all public drinking sources, test their copper and lead levels, and replace any fixture found to be out of compliance.
The final rounds of testing were completed this summer, and now all results are posted on the town’s website. All told, officials mapped 680 different drinking water sources across town and ran more than 1,600 total water sample tests.
“One of the bigger things was the hours and hours of multiple departments working together to map out everything,” said Erik Mysliwy, the town’s water quality and supply coordinator. “So when you look through those plans you can see every single source of drinkable water in any of Reading’s public schools, buildings and parks was mapped, tested and reviewed.”
When the project began in 2016, all schools and public buildings had at least one-third of their fixtures tested, with comprehensive testing being done at Coolidge Middle School, Birch Meadow Elementary School and the Killam School.
A handful of fixtures at Coolidge and Birch Meadow were identified and replaced, but Killam was found to have more extensive issues. As a result the school continues to exclusively use bottled water for drinking as it has over the past three years, with all sinks being labeled hand-washing only.
Since then, testing was completed at the Joshua Eaton School and RISE Preschool in 2017, and at the Wood End and Barrows Schools in 2018, with few if any issues reported.
Finally, testing concluded with tests at the Reading Memorial High School and Parker Middle School this summer. By and large both schools tested clean, with only an ice machine and a kitchen sink reporting elevated lead levels at the high school, and the nurse’s office sink and a kettle faucet and sink in the kitchen at Parker Middle School.
Those five fixtures were subsequently replaced, and three have been confirmed as safe after re-testing. The other two — a kitchen sink in the high school and the nurse’s office sink at Parker — weren’t used for drinking water and have been relabeled as hand washing only. They are not considered a health risk to students.
As part of their testing, officials used a standard of 12 micrograms per liter, which is below the MassDEP’s standard of 15 micrograms per liter. Going forward, officials will continue testing the schools on a three-year cycle, with the schools tested in 2016 coming up for a second round next summer.
With the initial cycle of testing completed, officials praised their counterparts in the water, facilities and school departments, all noting that each department went above and beyond their regular duties to help make the project a success.
“It’s not like that in every town, the water department could have said hey you take care of it. There was a huge amount of work mapping all of the schools,” said facilities director Joe Huggins. “A lot of other communities are striving to do what we’re going, so we’re really ahead of the game, and it’s something to be proud of.”
For all test results, documents and other information related to the town’s lead testing, visit: https://www.readingma.gov/public-works/water-division/pages/lcca-lead-contamination-control-act-plan.