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Superintendent Hints at 'Higher Level' After Latest WMS Water Flush

School Board member says rusty water problem is only camouflaged.

A Dec. 2013 video of hot water running at WMS. The videographer fills a glass with it at 4 minutes and at 10 minutes. CREDIT: Submitted video
A Dec. 2013 video of hot water running at WMS. The videographer fills a glass with it at 4 minutes and at 10 minutes. CREDIT: Submitted video
A flush of Woonsocket Middle School's hot water tanks has taps running clear after a month of rusty flow, while School Board Member Dan Chattman says they still need to find the source of the rust. 

Superintendent Giovana Donoyan says if the dingy reddish brown water, which state officials have attributed to rust, returns, the district will move to what she calls a 'higher level' fix. 

While the rust isn't a risk to public health, Woonsocket School Board members have expressed concern the problem is a sign that the hot water system in the school, built in 2010 during an $80 million construction project, is about to fail. 

On Jan. 8, the Woonsocket School Board addressed brown running water at WMS. During that meeting, School Facilities Director Peter Fontaine said he'd been trying clear the water lines of what he referred to as "sediment" by flushing them.

School Board members Chairman George Lacouture and Chattman said they believed the problem was caused by something in the tank that flushing alone would not solve. Chattman in particular was ardently outspoken, insisting the cause was a rusting water tank. 

Sophie O'Connell, spokesperson for the RI Department of Health, said tests show the brown color is caused by rust. She said the department was alerted to the problem in late December by an e-mail complaint. The Department contacted the Woonsocket School Department, which was already aware of the problem. State inspectors visited the school, and the Woonsocket Water Treatment plant, learning that the problem was caused by rust after examining the Water Treatment Plant's tests of samples from the school. 

O'Connell said rust does not have any negative health effects. Also, she said, inspectors determined it was limited to the hot water, which inspectors confirmed is not used in food preparation or by the cafeteria's dishwashers.

But for Chattman, the health effects are not as concerning as the fact that rusty water means there's something in the system that's rusting, and may fail. "I think what we have to do is find out where the rust is coming from," Chattman said. 

Over the Jan. 10 weekend, Donoyan said, Fontaine began the first step in what she said was the district's new plan to address the issue — beginning with more flushing. This time, she said, they flushed the tanks instead of the water lines. The job took the whole weekend, she said. "The water is running free and clear at this time," Donoyan said Jan. 14. 

Donoyan said the tanks have not been flushed since. She said doing that on a regular basis would be expensive and impractical. 

During the Jan. 21 special election primary, when a gym inside the school was open to the public, the hot and cold water running in a men's restroom appeared clear. A video submitted to Woonsocket Patch shows brown water from the Middle School's hot water tap in December, running with a dark, red-brown color. A Woonsocket Patch video of the water from Jan. 21 shows a marked improvement.

On Thursday, Donoyan said the water was still clear. 

Donoyan said the plan is to address the problem incrementally, as they did when it was clear flushing the lines wasn't working, by flushing the tanks instead. "When that didn't work (flushing the lines) we went deeper," Donoyan said. She said a certified plumber has also been called in to look at the problem. 

Chattman, who referenced 18 years of construction experience, is not convinced the problem is solved. "It's just been camouflaged a little bit," he said. Chattman said whatever is rusting in the hot water system could cause it to fail. How long that will take, he said, depends on how long whatever is rusting has been doing so. If it's been rusting for a year or two, "It might take another year," Chattman said.

Donoyan said she was first notified of the problem about a month ago, but, "This could have been something that was happening for years," when the building was built, she said.

Donoyan said she was "cautiously optimistic," and that Fontaine will continue monitoring the water at the school. If the brown water remains a problem, the district will attempt a solution at a "higher level," she said. 

When asked if that included opening the hot water tanks to put Chattman's concerns to rest, "We're not going to settle until we come to the root of the problem," Donoyan replied.
jack January 25, 2014 at 05:30 PM
Didn't someone say the supt. was the best in the State.
Chris12 January 26, 2014 at 07:52 AM
Jack - Supt. "best in the state" with a frugal three year contract of $500,000 (9h highest in the state). We have more than a rusty water problem
Sallie January 26, 2014 at 08:17 AM
Let the truth be know. Can't hide any secrets here DR. D. like you probably could elsewhere. If she is the best in the state...wow is all I can say....weren't these the words of Mrs Lisa Hunt our new mayor. Hopefully she regrets saying that now and she sees the truth. We all say things we later regret let's give the mayor the benefit of the doubt.
jack January 26, 2014 at 08:49 AM
I'll drink to that Chris12 and Sallie lets not give the mayor the benefit of the doubt.

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