Willis Questions Progress in East Derry Lead in Water

While a Derry School Board member has expressed frustration with the process used for removing lead from the water system at East Derry Memorial Elementary School, and with bureaucracy in general, district officials say the protocol they’re following is the one recommended by the state Department of Environmental Services (DES) and federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Superintendent Laura Nelson gave an update on the process at the May 3 School Board meeting.

Lead was found in the water from seven faucets during a routine state test in November. Additional tests were done in January and showed a higher than standard concentration of lead, more than 15 parts per billion (ppb). The faucets were replaced and a phosphate water treatment system was installed over February vacation.

At the May 3 meeting, Nelson said the district is waiting for the results of the latest water sampling. As of April 5, two faucets were still testing above the recommended concentration of lead. In addition, she said she is waiting for the results of water being drained into the septic tank.

She has also talked with the DES and Granite State Analytical, the company she’s working with, on doing further “sequential” testing of the faucets to see where the contamination is coming from.

They have changed the shutoff valve on the two offending sinks and are waiting for the results, she said.

Nelson said she expected to have results by the next School Board meeting and would also update her letter to parents.

Board member Brenda Willis said, “If we’re already treating the water with phosphates, how can we tell where the source is?”

Chairman Dan McKenna said that was where the sequential sampling came in.

Willis said, “The purpose of treating the water was to keep the lead out. Do we have the right levels of phosphate, or do we not have the right levels?”

Willis added, “I don’t think the state and the EPA know what they’re doing. This is concerning me more and more.”

Willis said she didn’t blame Nelson and her administrative team, but thinks the state and federal governments should take more ownership.

Nelson responded, “From the beginning, we were told to be patient. It will take a while to come up with the right dosage of the phosphates. And once we find it, we have to keep testing.”

Nelson observed that working on the water problem has consumed a great deal of her time and that of her team. She, Business Manager Jane Simard and Facilities Director Gary Webster “know more about water than we ever did.” She said all she could do was continue to work with the experts and receive their guidance.

“They will help us find the right mix,” she said.

“I have no more patience with this,” Willis said. “It is affecting our school children and staff.”

Nelson said she has asked the federal and state officials to expedite the delivery of results.