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Water contamination at high school could take five years to resolve

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GROTON — School officials admitted defeat in their attempts to identify and address the source of contamination in the high school’s water supply at the School Committee meeting. They recommended to the committee that the district seek outside experts to see if they will have better luck in solving a problem that has plagued the school for almost two years.

According to Gary Stirgwolt, a representative of the Turner Construction Co. and the general contractor in charge of constructing the $35 million high school, efforts to “tweak” the building’s water distribution system have “gone in the opposite direction” and not solved the problem.

As a result, Stirgwolt suggested acting on a plan proposed at an earlier meeting by Craig Young, the district’s manager of business and finance, that an outside specialist be hired to take a fresh look at the problem.

In summer 2004, after tests had determined that the school’s water supply was contaminated with dangerous levels of copper and lead, efforts that involved shutting down and flushing out the school’s water distribution system were swiftly implemented.

The isolation and testing of each component of the system, including a well and pump station, narrowed the focus of investigators to the school’s plumping system prompting the use of the additive to coat pipes and prevent brass fittings from reacting with carbon dioxide in the water that experts guessed produced the contamination.

Although the coating method received the blessing of the state’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), it has apparently not done the job.

Since the problem with the high school’s water quality was identified, the district has been trucking in bottled drinking water for students and staff, an expense that has so far cost the schools in excess of $6,000.

Stirgwolt said last week that with the committee’s approval he would proceed to collect and organize all documents pertaining to the school’s water distribution system, then interview specialists on small water systems and choose one for the job. The cost for the two phases of collating and hiring would come to about $11,000 to $12,000 each.

Unhappy with the way the investigation has gone, committee member Alan Vervaeke asked Stirgwolt what a “worst-case scenario” would look like if the problem failed to be corrected. But with the school’s well water testing positive before it was pumped from the ground, Stirgwolt dismissed the idea that any water would have to be piped in from elsewhere.

The problem, he insisted, was in the brass pipe fittings, a source of contamination that was a known quantity and one he said would take about five years to play out and come to a stop as proven at other buildings.

Stirgwolt said he intended to report back to the School Committee on his efforts to hire an outside specialist by the end of July.

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