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Timberlane drinking water has high arsenic levels

Alex Lippa
The Daily News of Newburyport, Mass. (MCT)

January 04. 2014 2:04PM

PLAISTOW -- For the second time in three years, Timberlane Regional High School was required to issue a public notice by the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services for having contaminated drinking water.

Timberlane's water was found to have 10.9 parts per billion of arsenic in a sample taken on Nov. 20. The state standard is 10 parts per billion.

"This is not an emergency of any sort," said Cynthia Klevens, an engineer with the DES Drinking Water & Groundwater Bureau. "It is still OK to drink the water. The concern is drinking water over a long period of time, and we are making sure they take steps to correct it."

Timberlane Superintendent Earl Metzler would not say much about the violation.

"I'm not ready to comment on that right now," he said. "We're going to do what we can do to make sure it's safe and of high quality."

Klevens said the district has already taken steps to fix the problem. Fitzpatrick Plumbing and Heating of Danville is adding iron to the water to capture the arsenic. They are also adding a chlorine injection system to bring the levels within compliance.

It was not expected that it would take long for the water to meet state standards.

"It should only take a couple weeks," Klevens said. "They're only required to send samples to the state, once per quarter, but I'm sure they are testing more frequently than that. Schools, without exception, are very quick to move toward a solution."

Klevens said Timberlane tested above the standards three times in 2013. The most recent violation required the school to respond to the state in writing about how they are planning to treat the water.

"It is not unusual," she said. "This is the reality when it comes to treating groundwater in New Hampshire. About one in every five wells in New Hampshire are above the standard. We are getting more used to it as time goes on."

The school also tested positively multiple times for arsenic levels in 2011, with tests as high as 12 parts per billion. After the tests, the school planned to install an arsenic mitigation system.

DES Health Risk Assessor David Gordon said there is a small chance of the arsenic causing cancer.

"It is known to cause lung, bladder and skin cancer," he said. "But the risk is around 3 in 1,000 if you were to drink the water for 70 years, which the students obviously would not be doing."

Because of that the state is looking to prevent bigger problems from happening in the future.

"It's a chronic issue, not an acute issue," Klevens said. "Our job is to just make sure they are moving toward a solution in a reasonable time frame."


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