Water at city's largest school is safe assures headteacher
The headteacher of the city’s largest school has offered reassurance to pupils and parents that its water supply is safe following concerns about water quality across the city’s schools.
As previously revealed by the Echo, Legionella bacteria was detected at West Exe Technology College earlier this year.
The school broke up early for the summer holiday to allow Carillion, the company which has been running services at Exeter’s secondary schools since they were built under a private finance initiative (PFI) agreement six years ago, to rectify the problem.
The school had not been able to use its own drinking supply for months and bottled water was provided.
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The fury of a Devon County Council solicitor was recently uncovered regarding Carillion’s “shock dosing” of the school’s water system with hydrogen peroxide to try and ensure tests produce a low number of positive legionella counts.
However Vicki Carah, headteacher has now insisted that there are no longer any problems with the water supply at the school following work by Carillion over the summer holiday.
Mrs Carah confirmed that the company has installed new drinking fountains and bottled water will not necessary this term.
She affirmed that the school had worked “really hard” to try to keep students and parents informed and to maintain their confidence in the situation.
A statement on the school’s website issued by Mrs Carah states: “We are assured that the water supply no longer requires additional or temporary measures and we are in a ‘business as usual’ situation.
“The last sets of readings have shown no concerns re legionella and all the drinking fountains have been replaced so the readings for metals are also as they should be.
“Carillion have worked hard to rectify the situation over the summer holiday and will be finished just in time for the new term.
“Devon County Council and school representatives will continue to meet with Carillion and Modern Schools Exeter Limited to ensure that the situation remains as positive as it is at present and we will, of course, let you know if there are any further concerns.”
All the city’s five secondary schools were built or rebuilt by Carillion under a £79m PFI contract between 2004 and 2006.
There have also been long-running issues affecting tap water at St Peter’s, with bottled water being provided at times this year to staff and students at St James School, Isca College of Media Arts, St Luke’s Science and Sports College and Wynstream Primary School.
In June 2012, the water supply at St Peter’s School which had been relying on bottled water for drinking ever since it opened in 2006, when blue water was first detected coming out of a drinking fountain, was finally given the all-clear.
Although Carillion did not offer a definitive reason for the blue water, it is understood that the problem was associated with the copper piping that was installed when the building was constructed.
The initial blue sample was found to contain too much copper, iron and manganese.
This month, more than 640 pages of correspondence between Devon County County and Carillion uncovered a series of shocking issues.
Of most serious concern was the revelation that a member of staff at Carillion falsified a document relating to concentrations of iron found in the water supply at St Peter’s school.
The document read that only 184 micrograms per litre of iron was found in the supply, when in fact 1,840 was found, almost 10 times over the legal limit of 200.
The last number was simply erased from the figure, to make out it was a safe reading.
The company said one member of staff was involved and acted alone and has since retired.
In a letter dated July 31, Rob Parkhouse, head of business strategy and support and the county council, writes directly to Carillion chief executive Richard Howson about the school’s water problems, and suggests it could have affected exam results.
He wrote: “The disruption across the schools has been a significant issue, in particular at West Exe, where the school has had to abandon science experiments and other curriculum activities. This disruption could have a detrimental effect on year 10 examination results.”
However Robert Holt, of Carillion, maintained that the risk to human health has always been paramount and no-one has been put at risk.