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Well water still being tested at St. Lawrence Central School

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BRASHER FALLS - Well water testing is still on-going at the St. Lawrence Central middle and high school, delaying the transition to a new well.

While contaminant levels have shown decreases during the last two tests, “(the Department of Health) would like us to still hold off on digging and using the new well until we get the numbers down from at the old well. They don’t want contamination from the old well going into the new well,” Superintendent Stephen M. Putman told board of education members Wednesday night.

The problem with the well was discovered in early November when the water took on a different color and odor. Once the problem was discovered, the district received authorization from the state Education Department to dig a new well earlier than scheduled. It had been planned as part of an upcoming capital project.

The district has been working with the Department of Health, Department of Environmental Conservation and state Education Department since then and has restricted the use of well water in the middle and high school in favor of bottled water and now water dispensers.

They were initially unable to identify the source of well water contamination, but later found a significant leak in the heating lines in one area of the crawl space. That runoff was flowing toward the boiler room and the old well.

It does look like the source was identified,” Department of Health spokesman Peter Constantakes said.

Mr. Putman had said earlier that the leak occurred in 1950s-era steam heating lines that were scheduled to be replaced in the upcoming capital project.

The pipes were replaced that stopped the contamination. But they were directed by DEC officials to pump water from the old well into the sewer system to rid the system of all contamination.

“Our advice was pumping the wells and putting it into the wastewater treatment system. The wastewater treatment plant has controls, which biologically decompose the propylene glycol,” DEC spokesman Stephen Litwhiler said.

Early well water tests run by the Department of Health had indicated a level of glycol higher than the regulatory standard in the well water.

The last ethylene glycol test showed less than .01 percent, Mr. Putman said. “You can’t go above 0.5 percent,” he noted.

The major use of ethylene glycol is as a medium for convective heat transfer. It is also commonly used in chilled water air conditioning systems that place either the chiller or air handlers outside, or systems that must cool below the freezing temperature of water.

Tests for levels of propylene glycol were also run and showed a decrease, Mr. Putman said. Propylene glycol is used in the district’s heating lines that send heat to the bus garage and elementary school.

“Monitoring is still going on to make sure that any contamination either breaks down or if steps need to be taken to try and address it so it doesn’t go into the water,” Mr. Constantakes said, noting bi-weekly monitoring was being done at the school and in the community.

“Initial monitoring hasn’t shown any problems outside of it. The key is, if you address the problem, to make sure everything is flushed out. We’re just checking and monitoring and making sure everything is safe. Once you address the source, you hope it really cleans out. We think it will break down and cease being a problem,” he said.

Mr. Putman said the Department of Environmental Conservation has recommended that the district build test wells to ensure all contamination is gone before putting the new well into place.

He said they will continue to monitor the situation, and they plan to continue providing bottled water at least until after the Christmas vacation.

“The DEC will continue to offer technical assistance to the school district and the Department of Health. That’s our role,” Mr. Litwhiler said.

The contamination has not affected the elementary school, which operates on a separate well system.

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