The drive this summer to test lead levels at child-care centers and daycares across Vermont has resulted in testing at facilities across Lamoille and Washington counties and in the Northeast Kingdom.
As in the statewide trend, some of those daycares and centers have been flagged with faucets or fountains showing lead levels at or higher than the allowable state-standard of 4 parts per billion.
But, in most of those cases there’s an easy fix to the problem.
For most child-care facilities, the fix simply requires “going to the hardware store and replacing a faucet,” explained Ben Montross, the compliance and support services section chief with the Department of Environmental Conservation’s Drinking Water & Groundwater Protection Division.
Three local childcare centers — the Morristown After School Program, and AppleTree Learning Centers and the Mountain Village School in Stowe, along with a handful of smaller in-home daycares — had at least one water source that showed lead levels of 4 ppb or more. Two of those larger centers, AppleTree and Mountain Village School, and all the local in-home daycares reported that they had replaced problem fixtures soon after the test results revealed the issue.
A new state law, Act 66, requiring the lead testing was passed earlier this year. That law states that any water source used for drinking or cooking in public and private schools and child-care facilities must be tested for the highly toxic metal that can cause damage to the brain, kidneys, nervous system and red blood cells.
Children are especially susceptible to the effects of too much lead. Act 66 creates one of the strictest standards for lead testing in the country, and requires that any water source with 4 ppb of lead or more be removed from use until it’s fixed.
The two faucets flagged at Mountain Village School were actually only hand-washing sinks, according to director and owner Sarah Pousignant. She and her staff weren’t required to test those sinks — only ones used for cooking or drinking have to be tested — but they wanted to be thorough, and Pousignant is glad they were.
“We were only required to test the sinks that children drink from or we cook with, but we tested all our sinks,” she said. Once the positive test results came back they quickly hired a plumber who replaced both the fixtures and the copper pipes in the walls adjacent to those sinks. That work wrapped up this week.
Under Act 66, a total of roughly 440 schools and 1,200 child-care facilities will undergo the lead testing by 2020. As of last week, testing results for roughly 300 child-care facilities and five schools had been submitted. Most schools will be tested beginning this fall.
Remediation can be a bit tougher at larger schools, but in either example the first step is to make sure no one drinks from or uses water from particular fountain or faucet to cook with until its fixed, Montross said. Lead levels in a water source typically build up when water sits in a faucet or fountain, especially older ones, for long periods of time as the water interacts with the metals in the fixture.
Results that show higher levels of lead during the initial test, but lower levels after the faucet has been flushed tend to point toward that type of issue, Montross said.
So, “just a simple plumbing swap,” is usually all that’s needed to bring lead levels back down under the 4 ppb level, he added. “If there is elevated lead, it’s most likely coming from the fixtures. If you have older fixtures, you can have a higher lead count.”
He stressed that lead rarely comes from any public water supply or well, it’s almost always from a particular problem faucet or foundation. Once that problem fixture is replaced the standard practice is to wait a few weeks before retesting.
“If those results come back with a concentration of less than 4 ppb, they’re allowed to then put that fixture back into service,” Montross said.
The faucets that flagged at Appletree in Stowe were immediately replaced, along with the pipes that led to them, said director Nicole Walker, but now she and her staff are playing a waiting game.
“It’s sort of frustrating,” Walker said, because they’ve asked for a second set of test kits to make sure the faucets can be used again, but the state hasn’t sent any.
“We have to retest, but we’ve yet to receive” the kits, Walker said.
Montross expects the Vermont Department of Health to soon finalize its schedule for picking up tests from schools across the state. Most daycares and child care centers mailed in samples, but schools will have so many fountains, faucets and other sources to test that couriers will be picking up samples beginning some time in late September, he said.
Any homeowners who are worried about lead levels in their private water supply or who have older fixtures can request sample jars from the Department of Health.
“Sample it first,” he said. “If it comes back high, work on replacing your faucets.”
Information about testing your private water supply can be found at healthvermont.gov.
Here’s a look at the local daycares and child care centers that were tested on a town-by-town basis, and the results.
• Craftsbury: Craftsbury Saplings, less than 2 ppb on flush draw.
• Eden: Danielle Allen’s daycare, less than 3 ppb found on flush test.
• East Hardwick: Care Bear Day Care Center, two sinks, less than 1 ppb on flush draws; Lisa Delaricheliere’s daycare, less than 1 ppb.
• Hardwick: Dawn Bailey’s daycare, kitchen sink fixtures replaced and bathroom sink passed both tests; Deborah Clifford’s daycare, fixtures for kitchen sink replaced; Melanie Molleur’s daycare, kitchen sink passed both tests.
• Hyde Park: Earline Monahan’s daycare, bathroom and kitchen sinks both showed less than 1 ppb on both tests.
• Johnson: Cheryl Audet’s daycare, less than 1 ppb on flush draw; Chelsea Hostetter’s daycare, bathroom and kitchen sink both passed each test.
• Stowe: Appletree Learning Centers, infant classroom sink and kitchen sinks were replaced; other sinks tested showed 1 ppb or lower on flush test; Mountain Village School, samples taken from 17 sources, and two bathroom sinks were replaced; 15 other locations tested below 1 ppb; Cubs Child Care, three sample locations showed less than 1 ppb on both draws; The Kids School, no concerns.
• Morristown: Clubhouse Kids, samples showed less than 1 ppb; Morristown After School Program, no concerns; Beverly Corrow’s daycare, flush draw showed less than 1 ppb; Robin Farrand, no concerns; Barbara Darrah’s daycare, 1 ppb first draw, 3 ppb flush draw; Tammara Laraway, less than 1 ppb on each test for bathroom and kitchen sink.
VTDigger contributed to this report.