Water fountain at Newton school contaminated by lead

Tests throughout Newton’s school system showed high lead levels at a water fountain at an elementary school, prompting officials to shut off bubblers in the building and provide bottled water to students until the cause can be determined, the mayor and superintendent said Tuesday.

Mayor Setti D. Warren and Schools Superintendent David Fleishman announced the test results at Burr Elementary School in a letter to parents.

“We are writing to inform you that one of the drinking fountains at Burr Elementary School has tested high for lead levels,” the letter said. “This result was received this morning, from tests performed two weeks ago, after the April school vacation.”


Warren and Fleishman wrote that water service has been shut off at all fountains in the school and that bottled water will be available until the city can determine what went wrong. They said “selected fountains” had been tested in each of the city’s public school buildings.

“While not all results are back, Burr is the only school which has tested positive,” the letter said, later adding that “Burr is one of our newer school buildings and does not have lead pipes. This means that it will take some work to locate the source of the lead. We will need to understand the number of fountains involved, which will help us determine the source. We will not allow anyone to drink from these fountains until we are sure that the water in the school is safe.”

The letter did not indicate how long the water may have been contaminated or whether any students or staff were affected.

Fleishman’s office referred questions to City Hall.

Dr. Dori Zaleznik, the city’s chief administrative officer, said that officials did not yet know whether students or staff at Burr were affected, or how long the fountain had been contaminated. She said officials will examine the rest of the fountains at the school on Wednesday to determine the scope of the problem.


“What we’re advising parents is to wait and see what repeat testing [at Burr] and other information” shows before they decide whether to have their child tested for lead, Zaleznik said.

“It’s possible that some kids will end up being tested, but at this juncture we don’t have any reason to know” if it will be necessary, she said.

Burr was last tested in 2010, when no problems were found, Zaleznik said. She said the city typically samples water at several schools every other year. But after highly publicized reports about the contaminated water supply in Flint, Mich., and elsewhere, Newton officials decided to test all 23 schools this year, she said.

As of Tuesday, test results for 12 schools had come back negative and results for the remaining schools were expected Wednesday, according to Zaleznik.

School Committee members expressed concern about the testing results at Burr but said they were confident the city would swiftly address the issue.

Matt Hills, the committee chairman, expressed his “confidence in the city and the School Department to get to the bottom of it and make any changes that are necessary.”

His comments were echoed by vice chair Ruth Goldman.

Newton is not the only school district to encounter lead problems. The Boston Public Schools recently announced that fountains in multiple schools tested positive for lead, and officials have taken similar steps to remedy the issue.


Travis Andersen can be reached at travis.andersen@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @TAGlobe.