Pupils at a school with contaminated water have been drinking bottled water.
By STEPHEN SIFF
VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER
BRACEVILLE -- Township trustees will meet Friday to discuss what to do if high levels of arsenic, which were found in Vaughn Elementary School's well, also are present in the wells of nearby homes.
"There are a lot of homes near the school, and this is a concern of a lot of people," said Trustee Dennis Kuchta.
A series of laboratory tests of the school water last month found levels of arsenic about twice the level permitted by the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency. Vaughn Elementary is part of the LaBrae School District.
The arsenic levels were about 10 times what will be permitted under more stringent EPA regulations set to go into effect in 2006, said Charlotte Hammar, who oversees drinking water safety in Trumbull County for the EPA.
Cancer risk: A low level of arsenic, when ingested over many years, is associated with increased rates of bladder cancer, Hammar said. The element occurs naturally in the earth in Northeast Ohio, and it is a component of some herbicides and pesticides, she said.
The EPA has not determined the source of the arsenic in the school's well, which was measured at 98 parts per billion by averaging three water samples taken last month. Hammar said the agency would conduct additional tests this week and check the water at the school's back-up well.
The EPA requires that public water supplies take action if the level of arsenic rises above 50 parts per billion. In June, the EPA put into place controversial new regulations that would lower that threshold to 10 parts per billion, but that standard will not go into effect for four years.
Testing required: The EPA requires public water supplies to be tested every three years. The agency ordered the tests last month after results from an earlier sample, taken in November, found 54 parts per billion of arsenic.
The last time water at the school was tested for arsenic was in 1995, when it registered 45 parts per billion, according to EPA records.
The school had its water tested as required by a private laboratory in 1998, but did not have the test for arsenic done, said Kara Allison, an agency spokesperson.
The EPA sent the district a letter in May 1999 asking it to "avoid further legal implications" by testing the school's water for arsenic.
The EPA does not have a record of the test's being conducted, she said.
Alex Geordan, the school principal, said that the private laboratory hired by the school erred by failing to forward test results to the EPA. He was not principal at the time.
"The bottom line is that arsenic is naturally occurring and it is going to go up during a dry spell," said Ron Joseph, LaBrae superintendent. "We did have a dry spell, so the water level is down."
Since last week, pupils at the school have been drinking bottled water from coolers, at a cost of $300 a week to the district, Joseph said.
If arsenic turns up in the school's water for two consecutive months, the EPA will require that the school buy a filtration system or tie into a Newton Falls waterline, which ends about a mile away, officials said. The school is scheduled to be shut down when a new LaBrae facility opens for the 2004 school year.
Leak concern: Kuchta and others have expressed concern that the arsenic contamination could be a result of leaks from disused underground storage tanks. EPA officials say, however, that old fuel storage tanks are not potential sources of arsenic.
So far, three homeowners in the area have asked the Trumbull County Health Department, which has jurisdiction over private wells, to have their wells tested for arsenic.
The health department enforces minimum requirements for some contaminates, but not for arsenic, said Frank Migliozzi, director of environmental health.