Schools required to test water for uranium

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(Host) The state wants 150 schools and day care centers to test their water supplies for signs of radioactive contamination. The state imposed the new testing requirements after the well water for the Middletown Springs elementary school showed elevated levels of uranium. The radioactive material occurs naturally in some rock formations in Vermont.

VPR’s John Dillon reports:

(Dillon) Middletown Springs in Rutland County got its name from the mineral rich waters that bubbled from the ground. In years past, the springs were thought to cure disease. Now new tests have shown that the underground water supply for the Middletown Springs Elementary School contains radioactive uranium.

Tests this spring showed levels of 64 parts per billion, about three times higher than the state standard of 20 parts per billion. The test results prompted officials to ask about 150 schools and day care centers around the state to test their well water for uranium and radium. Ellen Parr Doering is chief of the compliance section of the state’s water supply division.

(Doering) “We’re thinking that it’s possible – knowing the geology of Vermont, because this is a naturally occurring contaminant – we might find potentially, we might find – we want to rule it out at least, high levels in other schools. And we think the public needs to aware of this.”

(Dillon) The concern is that prolonged exposure to radioactive water could cause an elevated risk of cancer or kidney disease. The Middletown Springs school has switched to bottled water and has notified parents and staff members.

Parr Doering says the state in the past has not required schools and day care centers that operate their own water supplies to test for radioactive material. Municipal water supplies, which serve most public schools, are required to do the testing.

And Parr Doering says that just because the radioactive material shows up in a nearby well, it doesn’t necessarily mean the groundwater in the whole area is contaminated.

(Doering) “What we’ve found with radionuclides is that they can vary greatly and even though we have a high hit somewhere very close by, there might be no problem at all. So you want to really get this monitoring data, you want to get the sample before you make a decision on whether you have high levels.”

(Dillon) The schools that have to do the testing must send water samples to certified labs by June 1. The results on the uranium levels should be available within eight weeks. The radium tests take longer, and should be ready in three to six months.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m John Dillon in Montpelier.

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