MAXWELL — School officials are unsure how long students and staff at Maxwell Intermediate School might have been drinking water that contained bacteria.
Drinking water at the school was restored Thursday after being shut off for 13 days because a regular test indicated the presence of bacteria in a groundwater well that supplies water to the building.
Steve Sturm, Greenfield-Central director of buildings and grounds, said it’s unlikely that coliform bacteria, the contaminant detected, would cause harm to anyone who consumed the water in the period of time before it was discovered.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, coliform bacteria typically doesn’t make individuals sick; instead, the bacteria can be an indicator of viruses and other harmful germs in the water supply.
But school officials said thorough testing showed the water did not contain any harmful parasites and students and staff shouldn’t be at risk of getting sick.
The groundwater the school uses is tested at least once every three months, as mandated by state regulations, and officials are closely monitoring the water to make sure the contaminant doesn’t reemerge, they say.
During the six school days that students and staff were without potable water, school officials hauled in 5-gallon jugs of water hooked up to multiple water coolers that were placed throughout the school. Water to drinking fountains and sinks was cut off, and hand sanitizer dispensers were placed in bathrooms and classrooms, Sturm said.
Those supplies and the equipment for the testing cost the school upward of $800, Sturm said.
Harold Olin, Greenfield-Central superintendent, said the school reacted quickly after detecting the contaminant and flushed the system with chlorine.
Sturm worked with state health officials and ascertained that the bacteria was coming from one of the school’s water softeners. The softeners have been shut off from the water supply, and technicians are assessing what may have caused the contamination, Sturm said.
Olin said the school will work to either replace or repair those softeners as soon as possible because using hard water over an extended period of time can cause damage to the school’s pipes, he said.
Jobie Whitaker, principal at Maxwell Intermediate, said he notified parents of the issue the day it was detected.
No parents reached out to him about concerns, he said.
“It wasn’t an issue here at the school,” Whitaker said. “The kids had no problem with it, and our staff handled everything really well.”
Whitaker said the school has had to shut off water in the past for the same reason. Olin said Eden Elementary, the only other school in the district that uses well water, has had the same issue in the past, and it’s something that sometimes happens with well water systems, which Eden and Maxwell use.
Sturm said he’ll continue to closely monitor Maxwell Intermediate’s water to make sure the contaminant doesn’t return.