Water quality problems persist in CHCCS buildings
Students are back in classrooms at Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools, but the district still struggles with water quality issues resulting from last year’s extended shutdown.
In a message to staff and families on Monday, CHCCS deputy superintendent Patrick Abele said officials were still detecting copper and lead in some water samples taken from schools.
For this reason, Abele said CHCCS schools will continue to provide bottled water to staff and students for the remainder of the school year, and only use bottled water for preparation. of food “until tests confirm the water is safe to drink.”
Orange Water and Sewer Authority (OWASA) officials first discovered the problem in February when testing water samples at Ephesus Primary School, in preparation for reopening after an 11-month shutdown. At the time, OWASA executive director Todd Taylor said the detection was likely due to standing water in pipes that hadn’t been used for nearly a year.
Since then, OWASA and CHCCS have worked to flush the water lines in each school and install water filters in many places. However, Abele said copper and lead are still detected, “including in a sample taken from a kitchen sink that was used after filters were installed.”
Abele said an investigation is underway in consultation with the state’s health department. In addition, the district hired an independent consultant “to oversee our process and ensure that schools’ drinking water is safe to drink by the end of the summer.”
In the meantime, Abele said the flushing process will continue and the district will “replace fixtures and plumbing as needed,” when flushing alone doesn’t solve the problem.
Read Abele’s full message to the CHCCS community:
Dear CHCCS staff and families,
I am writing to you today to update you on our current water analyzes.
With buildings mostly empty and underutilized for a year, the likelihood of water quality problems in our school facilities has increased dramatically. From February, with the help of the Orange Water and Sewer Authority (OWASA), we started testing water samples in schools. At that time, we discovered a sink for washing hands at Ephesus Elementary with detectable levels of copper and lead. With the help of OWASA, we have since widened our testing scope and are currently working to test all kitchen sinks, ice machines, water coolers, bottle filling stations and refrigerators in all schools. We find that although we have increased rinsing activities and installed water filters in many places, copper and lead have been detected in some recently taken samples – including a sample taken from a kitchen sink put in. service after installing filters.
OWASA is convinced that the drinking water delivered to your home remains drinkable.
We are investigating the cause of these results. Here are some things to know about our next steps:
- Only bottled water will be used for food preparation in our kitchens, until testing confirms the water is safe to drink.
- Bottled water will continue to be provided to all staff and students for the remainder of this school year.
- We continue to flush the water lines in every school. This has been shown to be effective in reducing particulate levels and will continue. It also increases the amount of disinfectant circulating through the system from the water source.
- In cases where flushing the lines does not produce the desired results, we will replace the fixtures and piping as needed. We will also continue to add filters as needed.
- All coffee machines connected to the water pipes have been deactivated.
- OWASA has agreed to speed up the testing process so that we get faster results.
- We are hiring an independent consultant to oversee our process and ensure that schools’ drinking water is safe to drink by the end of the summer.
- The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services has reviewed our plan and agrees with our next steps.
- We will remain in close consultation and share the test results with the Orange County Health Department, ensuring they are fed into the process.
- New durable signage is being installed this week to label all sinks / fountains as hand wash only (water has been confirmed safe for hand washing and dishwashing).
Please be aware that we operate with extreme caution and will not risk the safety of any of our students or staff. There is considerable work to be done and will continue for the remainder of this school year and into the summer. We expect all of our testing and necessary repairs to be completed in time for the school to open in August. Until then, we appreciate your patience with the bottled water solution. If there are any changes to the plan, the district will keep in touch with families and staff.
Assistant Superintendent – Support Services
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