84.7 F
Charlotte Amalie
Wednesday, June 19, 2024


Just hours before the opening of public schools in the territory, the Education Department on Saturday learned that the water at Joseph Sibilly Elementary School, Charlotte Amalie High School and the department's Curriculum Center in Tutu is contaminated.
It is the second year in a row that water contamination has been discovered at Sibilly just before the first day of school.
Education Commissioner Ruby Simmonds said Sunday night that Caribbean Safe Water Labs advised that the water at Sibilly should not be consumed until additional samples are tested.
"The samples taken last week Wednesday and Thursday show low exceedances of methylene chloride and dibromomethane," Simmonds said, noting that levels of the contaminants were measured at .0005 milligrams per litre and .0032 milligrams per litre, respectively.
At CAHS, principal Jeanette Smith Barry was notified of test results on tap water in the high school's kitchen, where exceedances of .0032 milligrams per litre of xylene were recorded. Simmonds noted that the Superintendent's Office is housed at the Curriculum Center and plans have already been taken for staff to avoid consuming the water until further tests have been completed.
At the Sibilly School on Sunday night, she said efforts are focused on that campus and the James Madison Annex since those facilities will receive students Monday. "As soon as the notification was received, I convened a meeting to determine the extent of the problems," Simmonds said.
She said she met with Insular Superintendent Rosalia Payne, Sibilly Principal Dora Hill and Marcella Jennings of Caribbean Safe Water Labs. She said Jennings advised that changing the filters at the Sibilly School will correct the problems.
"The filters were changed on Sunday afternoon, but to ensure that the problem has been corrected, the department will ask the laboratory to retest the water on Tuesday before deciding to lift the restrictions on its use," Simmonds said.
Water coolers and bottled water have been delivered to Sibilly for use Monday. Access to the school's water supply has been shut off, and late Sunday evening Hill was making her way around the campus posting signs directing students not to use water from the taps.
According to information released Sunday night by the Education Department, the cisterns at the Sibilly campus and Monroe Annex were cleaned and sealed Aug. 25. New filters were installed and cisterns were filled one week later on Sept. 1. The samples for testing were drawn on Sept. 6, 7 and 8 by department staff and delivered to the lab.
The department was notified of possible contamination on Saturday by telephone, and copies of test results for the three facilities were received from the laboratory Sunday.
In August 1999, only days before school was to start, the Source reported that water at Sibilly School and the James Monroe annex was contaminated by volatile organic chemicals. Education Department officials had known of the contamination for months but failed to notify parents even after being ordered to do so by the V.I. Planning and Natural Resources Department.
After months of questions and hearings, the origin of the contamination last year was never pinned down.
Sunday night, Parent Teacher Association President Vinnie Mohanani said, "We were notified of the reports at midday Sunday by the commissioner's office."
He said he is satisfied that the department's corrective steps will ensure a smooth opening of school Monday. "I have been informed that the red flags which have been raised in the report can be corrected by replacing the water filters," he said.
"While I commend the department for its quick action in ensuring the safety of the faculty and staff, I urge parents of students to send a jug of water to school on Monday so that each child will have their own supply of water."
Mohanani said the presence of Simmonds and school administrators at the Sibilly campus Sunday showed their commitment to the children enrolled at the school.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Keeping our community informed is our top priority.
If you have a news tip to share, please call or text us at 340-228-8784.

Support local + independent journalism in the U.S. Virgin Islands

Unlike many news organizations, we haven't put up a paywall – we want to keep our journalism as accessible as we can. Our independent journalism costs time, money and hard work to keep you informed, but we do it because we believe that it matters. We know that informed communities are empowered ones. If you appreciate our reporting and want to help make our future more secure, please consider donating.