UPDATED: The story has been updated Friday night to reflect information from Superintendent Robert Tremblay.
The Milford public schools will introduce water coolers that provide bottled water for students and staff to drink, instead of the bubblers that draw water provided by the Milford Water Company.
This follows recent test results that have revealed levels of a contaminant in the Milford school water that — like in other spots of town — exceed permissable amounts for drinking water.
The cost of purchasing the bottled water for the schools will be borne by the Milford Water Company, said its general manager, David Condrey, Thursday night, following a community meeting on water concerns. He said the details are still being worked out, but that every school would get the bottled water.
The move comes through mutual agreement among Milford Health Agent Paul Mazzuchelli, Superintendent Robert Tremblay and the Water Company.
Said Condrey, on Thursday: "We know it's not the [final] answer or the solution. But we need to provide some confidence level."
Tremblay said it's a proactive step, intended to relieve concerns among parents about children being exposed to the contaminant. The water coolers will be filled with Poland Spring water. The cafeterias will continue to use Milford water to prepare lunches and breakfast, because it is considered safe, he said.
"It's not that we need to do that," he said, of the water coolers. "It's a proactive step."
In other recent changes, he said, the system's athletic trainers now are using filtered water to fill the large water coolers for athletes.
The contaminants — called Total Trihalomethanes (TTHMs) — are produced when drinking water is disinfected. They form when disinfectants, such as chlorine, combine with leaves and other organic materials that are found in surface waters.
According to the state Department of Environmental Protection, which oversees drinking water supplies, the amount of contaminant allowed for drinking water is 80 parts per billion (ppb).
In Milford, the contamination has exceeded the permissable amount all year. And samples taken Aug. 25 showed the highest levels yet. Results from six test locations ranged from a low of 87 ppb to a high of 122.5 ppb, according to a report on the Water Company's site.
Water samples taken at the town's public and private schools revealed similar levels.
The results were revealed at the citizen's meeting Thursday on drinking water concerns. Lisa Vasile, an organizer, read aloud the results released to the school system, in which the TTHM levels were: Woodland Elementary, 113 ppb; Brookside Elementary, 112 ppb; Stacy Middle, 83 ppb; Milford Catholic Elementary, 83.9 ppb; Memorial Elementary, 84.2 ppb; Milford High, 104 ppb; and Middle School East, 99.4 ppb.
The Water Company recently mailed notices to its customers, advising them of the elevated levels of the TTHMs, with guidelines saying that pregnant women and children may be a group of special concern for exposure to the contaminant.
The Water Company notice described the risk this way:
"Cancer risks are normally expressed as lifetime risks as a result of averaging daily exposure levels (associated with the lifetime daily average of ingesting 2 liters of drinking water/day) over a lifetime of 70 years. Based on these studies, and the potential for developmental and reproductive effects from TTHM exposure, women of childbearing age and pregnant women are the group that may be more susceptible to effects from TTHM exposure; however children are always of concern with chemical exposures as noted above."
The company, and state DEP officials, say they expect the TTHM levels will decrease as the water temperature cools. In addition, the company is installing in October the first of two "carbon sandwich" filters at its Dilla Street site, which should help screen out the organic materials before they enter the treatment plant. The first carbon filter is expected to be working by the end of October.
In 2013, the Water Company expects to have a new treatment plant operating in Milford.