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LUCAMA — Wilson County Schools has taken measures to limit student and staff exposure to tap water at Lucama Elementary School.
Principal Zach Marks sent parents a message Wednesday afternoon about the situation.
“I’m calling with a message for parents about the water in Lucama,” Marks said in the voice message that was then copied on Facebook. “We have been advised that there are currently no health issues associated with the water — however, we have had many parents and residents express concern with the color of the water, so we have taken some precautions. Currently, the town is running additional tests and waiting for those results to come back.”
On Wednesday, some of the school’s 430 students drank from freestanding water coolers down the hall from covered wall-mounted water fountains.
Marks said it’s not the first time the school administration has acted to prevent students and staff from accessing the water.
“We did it a few times last year when the water got stirred up,” Marks said.
“Teachers will also distribute hand sanitizer to students who do not want to use the sinks in the bathroom,” Marks said in the message. “In the cafeteria, we are not going to cook with the water until we know what the test results are. Our cafeteria staff will use distilled water to prepare the items currently on the menu and will make modifications as needed.”
“There are some things where you don’t have to use as much water to cook,” Marks said Wednesday afternoon, “so they are changing the lunch menus up a little bit to make things easier.”
‘TRYING TO BE PROACTIVE’
Marks said the school took action after a story about Lucama’s water woes appeared in Tuesday’s edition of The Wilson Times.
The school receives water from the town of Lucama, which has experienced long-term issues with discolored water.
On Sept. 28, the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality’s Public Water Supply Section issued the town a notice of deficiency for the water’s iron and manganese concentration.
“After the article we saw in the paper yesterday, I touched bases with the central office in Wilson County and talked to them a little bit about some of the test results and stuff they had found,” Marks said.
According to Marks, the school has seen discoloration in the water off and on. Marks said the water sometimes look dark or red.
“Even though none of the testing is showing anything that is bad, we are just trying to be proactive and make sure the kids and the parents understand that we are going to do everything we can to make sure everything is on the up-and-up with them.”
Marks said it is “the best thing we could do” until new water tests come back from the state.
“I think they were just going to get some confirmation that everything was fine,” Marks said.
Wilson County Schools has provided the school with cups along with the water stations.
“Kids just basically use a new cup every time from those instead of using the water fountains,” Marks said.
Marks said the water is safe for hand-washing.
“Right now the water looks fine, but it is subject to change depending on if there is a leak or something,” Marks said. “We have hand sanitizer the kids can use if the kids don’t feel comfortable washing their hands under the water that’s brown and red.”
Marks thanked Wilson County Schools Superintendent Lane Mills for helping to coordinate the water stations.
“Personally, I just appreciate the help from Dr. Mills and everybody downtown getting all of this set up. Once I saw the article, I shot them an email and made sure I was meeting (with administrators) and being proactive about everything. Dr. Mills called me last night and sent me a text message this morning, and we kind of came up with a plan that we are going to do over the next four or five days until they can get a real comfortable feel and seeing the water was being tested and seeing exactly what it is so that we are good to go on that,” Marks said. “We would rather be safe than sorry.”
Earlier this year, the town of Lucama received a $488,990 loan/grant package and a $2,227,200 grant from the state to make improvements to the town’s water. Both projects are currently in the engineering and design phase.
Marks said parents have complained about the quality of the water their children are accessing at the school.
“We have had parent concerns about the color of the water,” Marks said. “I think the major one was a couple of weeks ago when they had a major water leak.”
The Sept. 4 leak at the corner of Little Rock Church Road and Rouse Street was near the school.
“That really stirred up everything,” Marks said. “There was about three or four days when Wilson County Schools brought in the water coolers for the children to use. We sent a note home to parents about that then, too.”
Nancy Howard has a grandson who is in the fourth grade at the school.
“I think it’s a good thing they are putting in bottled water,” Howard said Wednesday as she waited to pick up the child. “I think that’s wonderful.”
Dwight David, another parent waiting to pick up his third-grader, agreed that it was a good idea for school administrators to take the action.
“It looks like it will cut the iron contaminants out,” Davis said. “The well water needs to be filtered.”
Kayla Cavenaugh of Saratoga, who has a second- and a third-grader at the school, said she thought it was proper to place the temporary water fountains in the school for the students and staff to use.
“I don’t want any of the kids getting sick, so I’m sure that will prevent any of that,” Cavenaugh said.