Parents received a notice that lead was detected in drinking water at Tisbury School. Through reporting The Times learned the lead was detected in a single sink. -Rich Saltzberg

Updated 4:15 pm

Parents throughout the Martha’s Vineyard School system received a notice Friday morning from superintendent Matt D’Andrea that lead, a toxic metal known to cause neurological damage in children exposed to it, was found in drinking water at the Tisbury School. 

While school committee chair Amy Houghton told The Times the lead was detected in a sink that’s not used for drinking water, D’Andrea made no mention of that in his message to parents. 

Meanwhile, Vineyard Montessori also had lead detected in a sink in one of its classrooms in the school’s older building at 286 Main St., Deb Jernegan, head of school, told The Times. “We immediately stopped the use of that drinking water and had the filtered Poland Spring water brought in,” she said.

D’Andrea’s notice to parents seemed largely composed from Massachusetts Department of Public Health standard language.

“The Massachusetts Department of Public Health (DPH) is working with the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP) to heighten awareness of the importance of reducing and preventing exposure to lead, particularly by pregnant women, infants, and young children,” the email states. ”It has come to our attention that recent drinking water testing at Tisbury Elementary in Tisbury indicated that lead was detected in drinking water. 

It is important to reduce lead exposures as much as possible particularly for young children, pregnant women, and infants — because there is no safe level of lead exposure. DPH staff are available to assist your office with risk communication as well as answer health-related questions that you, your staff, students, or parents/guardians may have related to potential exposure to lead in drinking water. Please feel free to contact the DPH Bureau of Environmental Health at 617-624-5757 for assistance with any health-related questions or concerns.”

Reached Friday morning, Houghton said the lead was found in water from a sink during a routine survey. Houghton said the sink isn’t one children have access to, let alone drink from. She believed nobody was drinking from the sink.

Houghton said school officials “are committed to looking at issues that might arise” and the Tisbury School is known to have “antiquated systems” and, in part, “that’s why we’re building a new school.”

When asked why the lead wasn’t discovered in the water from that sink before, Houghton said, “I don’t know that I can answer that” and suggested contacting Tisbury’s water superintendent.

Tisbury Water Superintendent Christopher Cassidy couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.

Houghton later said it was her understanding that state regulations and testing standards had recently changed to be more stringent in the wake of the Flint, Michigan, water crisis. 

“My understanding is that it would not have hit the threshold previously,” Houghton said.

Houghton said the sink was in the Tisbury School cafeteria and “not accessible to anyone but cafeteria staff”. 

Once the lead was found, Houghton said water to the sink was shut off. 

Tisbury Town administrator Jay Grande called the discovery a ‘“serious matter” that will require swift remediation. “I believe it warrants additional testing and follow up,” Grande said.

Grande said he believed the school is tested in three year cycles. Grande said he believed the sink in question was a handwashing sink. He expects Cassidy, Tisbury School principal John Custer, Tisbury Health Agent Maura Valley, and Tisbury Building Commissioner Ross Seavy will meet on Friday to address the issue. 

In 2019, lead contamination was discovered in the school just weeks before the school was scheduled to open at the start of the school year. That delayed the opening of the school and, ultimately, forced school officials to move some students to the high school temporarily while lead remediation was done in the 1929 building.

In contrast to D’Andrea’s notice that offered few details, Jernegan alerted parents with bullet points about how the school is handling the situation. Her detailed notice links a fact sheet put out by the DPH.

“VMS is taking this very seriously and has taken immediate steps to remediate the lead detected in the drinking water,” she wrote to parents.

Jernegan told The Times the results came in earlier this week and action was immediately taken. The school is using spring water throughout the building for drinking water, not taking a chance that it’s confined to the one sink. The school has also purchased new fixtures and filtration systems, she said. The school will also test the water at the point of entry, Jernegan told The Times. “We’re trying to test and mitigate the whole building to be sure,” she said.

Jernegan said she’s heard from a couple of parents since they were alerted. “I’ve answered them transparently and honestly and let them know what we’ve done,” she said.

The classroom, where the sink that tested positive for lead is located, has 12 students regularly in it, Jernegan said. Asked if those students would be tested, she said that would be up to the town’s health department or the child’s pediatrician, she said. 

In a press release issued Friday afternoon, Seavey, writing on behalf of Grande, wrote, “The Town of Tisbury was informed by the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection that routine testing at the Tisbury School and Vineyard Montessori School showed lead levels above compliance standards (1 part per billion) at one handwash sink at the Tisbury School and at a sink at the Vineyard Montessori School. The sink at the Tisbury School was in an area inaccessible to students and was not used for drinking or cooking purposes.”
Seavey went on to write, “Testing throughout the Town of Tisbury public water supply system has not revealed levels of lead that exceed Massachusetts or Federal thresholds for lead in potable water, leading us to conclude that the overall water supply is safe, and that there may be elevated lead levels within the Tisbury School’s pipes and/or faucets. Based on these initial test results, an abundance of caution, and the overall age of the Tisbury School plumbing system, the Town of Tisbury, in collaboration with the Tisbury School and the Martha’s Vineyard Regional School District, will be carrying out the following actions:

  1. Cease using all faucets and water fountains within the Tisbury School for drinking water and the preparation of food until the water from them can be tested for lead.
  2. Conduct lead testing at all faucets and water fountains at the Tisbury School to determine if there are any other fixtures or areas with the elevated lead levels.
  3. Provide bottled water throughout the school and cafeteria until the lead status of all faucets and water fountains is known.
  4. Post signs at all sinks that they are for handwashing only.
  5. Replace all pipes and fixtures during the Tisbury School renovation project.”


George Brennan contributed to this report.


  1. You actually think only one sink is tested? Perhaps the author knows the answer but doesn’t want to publish it because it doesn’t attract readers. Bad question. Bad reporting.

    • We’ve been clear this is a developing story. Without our reporting parents wouldn’t know that the lead was detected in a single sink. And, yes, it appears that all water sources were tested in Tisbury schools, including the Montessori school, but you wouldn’t know that from the superintendent’s notice to parents.

  2. I have two children who attended the Tisbury School for five years each. They both ate school meals five days a week. Who can assure me that their intellectual, emotional, and physical development was not impacted by lead poisoning? And what are the implications for the school’s liability if they were?

  3. It’s an old building so of course there would be traces of lead somewhere in the school.
    I went there for eight years , as did my sisters and brother. I think it takes a whole lot more lead to lead to any real damage. I think we overreact these days to the headlines and to stories like this. I’m not saying it’s a good thing to be exposed to any real level of lead, but, seriously?

  4. When it comes to lead in water in Tisbury, the school is the tip of the iceberg. Do a little digging about the state of any pipes installed before the 70’s.

  5. Let me get this straight, while Selectman Jeff Kristal was busying himself with coercing the Tisbury Police to write parking tickets to Elio, and giving the Tisbury Inn the green light to dump unlimited amounts of waste water into the treatment system, poisoned water is flowing out of school taps?
    “You are doing a heck of a job, Jeffie!”

      • Hmmmm… Don, to the contrary, it has everything to do with Jeff Kristal and his lack of appropriate management and prioritization of town issues which effect the safety of its citizens. James is on target!

        • Mr Kristal has nothing to do with lead in pipes and your concern for safety is abnormally sensitive in this case. Antagonists of Kristal have misrepresented the Tisbury wastewater issue and the parking ticket non event.

      • With all due respect, the alleged elected representatives of the Town of Tisbury, the town where this school is located, are 100% relevant.
        When these same representatives, such as Kristal, are more dedicated to nefarious priorities, rather than our the quality of our children’s school, I would say he is relevant.

Comments are closed.