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School Board's Chattman on WMS Brown Water: "It Is Rust"

Superintendent, Facilities Director contend Middle School's brown water is not from rusting material.

School Board's Chattman on WMS Brown Water: "It Is Rust" School Board's Chattman on WMS Brown Water: "It Is Rust" School Board's Chattman on WMS Brown Water: "It Is Rust"
 Editor's note: Originally posted Jan. 08, at 11:10 p.m.; updated 8:59 a.m.

After stating Wednesday's School Committee meeting would address reddish brown running water at Woonsocket Middle School, and two speakers on it during public comment, Superintendent Giovana Donoyan didn't mention the issue until prompted, after her report.

Woonsocket School Board Chairman George Lacouture, whom Donoyan said this afternoon would speak to the issue, didn't seem to be on board with that plan. "I was under the impression that you were going to address the water issue," Lacouture told her. "Someone has to and it's not going to be me."

Donyoan agreed to add comments on the water to her report. "There are no toxins in our water system," she said, "The cold water, the water that is consumed by our children, is clear and fine," she said. Donyoan then asked School Facilities Director Peter Fontaine to update the board on the problem. 

Fontaine said the problem wasn't rust, a s reported earlier today by an official at the RI Department of Health. He said the problem is caused by sediment in the hot water tank from disuse. He said he was flushing the system regularly to clear the sediment out, and now realizes that the flushing has to be done more frequently. "I don't want the public to think for one moment that we've put the teachers, the children in jeopardy," Fontaine said. He invited anyone who wanted to help him work on the problem to pitch in.

"Where is the sediment coming from?" asked Lacouture. Fontaine said it's a matter of the hot water tanks not being used frequently enough to clear the sediment inside the tank. 

Lacouture seemed skeptical, referencing his own experience as a homeowner with similar water heater symptoms. "That means my water tank is going out of business and I'm going to have a flood," he said. 

He was not the only skeptical School Board member. School Board Member Dan Chattman, who said he was in his sixties and had been in construction since he was 18, ticked off the possible sources of the reddish sediment, eliminating the copper fittings and contamination from the filtered water main. "There's something inside the tank that's rusting," he said, "...And it is rust."

Chattman repeated the danger of the sediment to the heating system Lacouture mentioned. "You can flush and you can flush, but one day, we're going to come into these buildings and there's going to be water all over the place," he said.

Earlier that evening, Alethea Forcier brought two bottles of brown water —samples from the tap at Woonsocket Middle school, she said, the same samples she'd shown to the City Council Monday night. Forcier said that even if the problem wasn't being caused by rust, it had still been going on for some time, and wasn't something she wanted to continue. She said flushing might solve the immediate issue, "But I think it may be a band-aid to a problem, when you need to find the source of what the real problem is," she said.

Earlier that day, Forcier said she'd taken her samples to be tested at the Woonsocket Water Treatment Plant, where they told her it had an iron level of 274 milligrams per liter, as opposed to the .05 milligrams per liter in the water they send for public use. "They said that it was very, very high," she said. 

Earlier Wednesday, Forcier said she was disappointed that school officials had not disclosed the problem to the public and to parents when it first began at least one month ago, likely since the start of school this year. 

Denise Auclair spoke to the board as well. "My daughter has been talking about this for a while." She asked the Board, and school officials in general, to level with the public and parents about problems at the schools. "Transparency and communication is a big thing with the parents here," she said. "Communication. If you tell the parents what is going on we are behind you."

Board members voted to accept Donoyan's report, and adjourned the meeting quickly after, without taking action on the issue. 

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