Boston school panel to review proposals on water policy

The Boston School Committee is renewing discussions Wednesday night on a proposal for new drinking water policy, amid heightened concerns about lead levels found in some schools’ water.

The policy would mandate annual testing of all active drinking water sources in district schools and could fast-track efforts to return students to drinking tap water instead of using water coolers.

Most city schools have used bottled water for drinking for nearly three decades, after testing in the 1980s found high lead levels. Last summer, the district budgeted $300,000 for retrofitting six schools with new water fountains as part of a pilot program to return to drinking city water.


The project — which so far has gone $120,000 over its budget — was intended to provide a road map to install fountains in dozens of other schools and to save money on bottled water. The district expects to spend $415,000 this school year on bottled water.

The new fountains were not supposed to be used before they passed lead tests, but the district has revealed in recent weeks that some were put into temporary service, potentially exposing children to tainted water.

Two district maintenance employees were placed on administrative leave amid an investigation into the premature activation of those fountains.

Across the district, several dozen water samples from eight schools have been found to have lead concentrations above 20 parts per billion, including two with levels more than 10 times higher.

Specialists who study lead poisoning recently told the Globe that a few drinks of water with lead concentrations such as those found in Boston schools were unlikely to cause a child’s blood lead level to spike above 5 micrograms per deciliter of blood, the threshold for concern established by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Kim Dietrich, an environmental health professor at the University of Cincinnati, said school fountains are “a relatively minor source of lead exposure,” and that even if a child’s blood lead levels rise above 5 micrograms, it does not mean the child will experience health or developmental setbacks.


Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly said the School Committee was poised to vote on the new water policy.

Matt Rocheleau of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Jeremy C. Fox can be reached at jeremy.fox@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @jeremycfox.