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 Member Dan Chattman insisted the brownish-red water at the Middle School is caused by rust. CREDIT: Rob Borkowski
School Board Member Dan Chattman insisted the brownish-red water at the Middle School is caused by rust. CREDIT: Rob Borkowski
 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, as 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. 
Still Hope January 08, 2014 at 11:50 PM
So it is rust, but not rust, it's sediment from disuse but is used everyday and gets flushed regularly, but not regularly enough. This is a summary of what you just read.
Still Hope January 08, 2014 at 11:53 PM
My concern is: if it's not corroded iron(rust) then what else makes warm brown water with high iron content? Gross!
Lise January 09, 2014 at 06:20 AM
I can't believe Dr D tried to be sneaky and not mention the water, just love her quote "the water that is consumed by our children, is clear and fine," what world does she live in. She is trying to hide something. So happy Mr. L and Mr C spoke up at at the school committee, I think I'm going to like this new school committee. I hope they remember her antics when the superintendents contract comes up.
Gonetothe dogs January 09, 2014 at 06:57 AM
What Causes Brown Water? January 20th, 2009 by Ray Lee Master Plumbers If you turn on your faucet and light brown water comes out, there is most likely some presence of iron or manganese in your water system. Often times the galvanic coating comes off the inside of water pipes or the magnesium comes off of the anode rod, which exposes the iron and therefore gives the water a hint of brown coloring. It is important to determine whether the brown water comes from the entire water system or just part of it. If you turn on the hot water and see brown, then the anode rod in the water heater needs to be replaced or the entire water heater itself may be malfunctioning (water heaters have a lifespan of roughly 10-15 years). If you get brown water from both the hot and cold water systems, then the problem lies within the main water pipe before it branches off to different parts of the house. These plumbing problems are a bit more difficult to treat and may require help from a plumbing contractor. From Roto-Rooter.com
Chris12 January 09, 2014 at 07:20 AM
"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." A month has gone by and no one knows what is causing the problem?? Now we have TWO problems... The real cause of the rusty water AND why has it taken a month for our civic leaders to get involved?
Time to move on up January 09, 2014 at 07:41 AM
I couldnt believe it when the Dr. Super had to be reminded on the Water issue, she wasnt going to say a thing.. Furthermore, I could hardly contain my excitement when Mr. Chapman spoke of this issue. When he finished speaking I starting clapping an went to shake that mans hand. Finally someone who knows what they are talking about!!! I also gave a few board members some printed documents about Iron Overdose.. For the age of our children in the middle school the RDA for iron intake is 8mg. The water reading was 274. I will be having my child's iron level tested. I am livid that the proper officials did not notify the parents to let us decide if we wanted our children to bring extra water bottles to school or drink from the bubblers. No, instead we get phone messages of how many fire drills the school had today, calls on reminding us to properly dress our children for the cold weather etc... REALLY!!! Mrs. Forcier said shes not pointing fingers or placing blame, well I am. I want someone held accountable for sweeping this under the rug and continuing to make light of the situation. In conclusion, Dr Super an her condescending tone says, " I took a drink of the water and I'm still here" well since she's not a Dr of medicine I would like to inform her that high level intake of iron does not produce adversary effects until later in life.. Continue being ignorant and go back to Providence. We dont want you here.. Thank you Mr. Chapman and Chairman for asking questions when you had doubt and for sharing your knowledge on how a hot water tank actually works. The can of worms have been opened!!!!
Alethea Forcier January 09, 2014 at 08:04 AM
Oops that should have read as parents we have the power to be part of the solution...
virgil earp January 09, 2014 at 08:27 AM
What about the peanut chunks and the corn niblets?
Time to move on up January 09, 2014 at 08:31 AM
Well thank you Dr Super for you recorded phone call that theres a problem with the middle schools hot water. So appreciate it!!!
Alethea Forcier January 09, 2014 at 09:13 AM
The "talking" of this or any other problem does not "solve" the problem, it only stirs the pot creating bigger problems. I am referring to the gossiping that is going on within the comments sections. If you want to help be part of the solution then you should have been at the meeting, but you were not. As parents we have the power to be part of the solution and I can see we have some pretty strong personalities on here that can be used to help create a positive end result. You are basing your opinions (which you are entitled to) on here say not on fact. Fact: the water is disclosed and contains iron (I have proof to support that statement). Fact: We need to fix it!
Stephen Weber January 09, 2014 at 09:51 AM
In the 16'th century during the Tudor Dynasty , public officials like the Superintendent , administrators, and school committee would have probably been boiled alive in this dirty sewer water they left the children to drink while they drank Poland Springs that was paid for with tax dollars... .... This incompetent superintendent should at the very least be given the ultimatum to drink a gallon of this brown sewer water or resign...
Still Hope January 09, 2014 at 10:42 AM
Here's the facts: the school is 4 years old. That is NOT enough time for the pipes, heaters, or any other part of the water distribution system to corrode or malfunction. Even if something was not installed properly or a part of the system was defective, you would only notice it for a second or two when you first turn the water on. Anybody that lives in this city, especially at the bottom of a slope, knows that when there is construction nearby that your water turns browns for a minute. The cold water is affected only temporarily and is naturally flushed away once you open the faucet. The problem happens when the sediment(mostly rust from old city pipes) makes its way to the heating system. When the sediment gets into a water heater, it just sits on the bottom. So every time you crank the hot water, it picks up some the sediment with it. The fix is to simply empty the tank and completely flush the sediment out of the tank. This is a one time fix and takes only a couple hours. If you need to flush repeatedly, then that means the sediment keeps dumping into your water supply. If sediment keeps dumping into your water supply, that means it IS also in your cold water, but in smaller concentrations. That is freakin gross and dangerous. If the pipes get rattled by a one-time construction project then whatever. But if, say a train running across the water main two times a day is constantly shaking loose the sediment and sending it downhill to a school's water feed...I see a problem with that. I would wager that the mill buildings that were there previously had the same reoccurring problem with brown water, you just never heard about it. Test the cold water. I bet you get higher iron content at the school than from what comes from the water treatment plant, but less iron content than what's in the hot water.
Nelson Aldrich January 09, 2014 at 10:51 AM
I hear Neil Young is going to do a benefit concert for the WED.
Lise January 09, 2014 at 01:53 PM
Just heard that so many people have quit or left for other jobs working under Dr. D in the past year, shocker. Yet she is supposed to be in charge of all of children. My kids told me there is no hot water in the bathrooms or in their Science class now and before there was, obviously Miss Sneaky Dr. D is trying to hide the water problem by shutting off the hot water. I still cannot believe she was not going to address the issue at the meeting, thank you again Mr. L for calling her out on that. How I wish I could have been at that meeting and I wish I could get involved but I am a widowed single mom who works full time to provide the best I can for my family. Woonsocket is a city on the move, but I feel like moving out I'm so disgusted with the lies and deceit from the top ones in our school dept. God bless the teachers and whoever else has to deal and work with her in her building. The truth will come out and I would put money on it that she has know about the water for a really long time but kept it a secret. Thanks to the parents who were brave enough to come forward.
virgil earp January 09, 2014 at 02:01 PM
She turned off the water for your kids? GOOD! More water for me
Gonetothe dogs January 09, 2014 at 03:30 PM
How many teachers work in the Middle School? How many of them spoke up? If nothing was being done, why didn't some one go to the media? I don't understand how something like this can continue for months and be swept under the rug!!!
David T January 09, 2014 at 11:47 PM
While I'm happy Dr. Donoyan had Mr. Fontaine at the ready to present the problem, Mr. Fontaine's explanation failed to explain things. Before this was brought to the front page, he was apparently okay with the condition of the plumbing, the water and the flushing. And he's the one who has been selling this to Donoyan and convinced her that everything was okay, this no worries attitude. Okay, so now it's officially in the hands of the Mayor and HER School Board. So the first official response by the School Board goes like this... Mr. Lacouture starts to pick it apart, but then stops pressing Fontaine for answers. (paraphrased) Fontaine: "The problem is caused by sediment in the hot water tanks." Lacouture: "Where does the sediment come from?" Fontaine: "The hot water tanks and the hot water not being used." Folks, the "sediment" comes from somewhere.


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