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Schools test for lead in faucets and fountains

By Jackie Lupo

REGION — School districts across New York are scrambling to test their drinking water for lead this month in response to emergency legislation enacted by the State in early September. The testing is designed to pinpoint faucets and water fountains where the water supply contains unsafe amounts of lead, which has been linked to lowered IQ, behavioral problems, and brain damage.

Results are now coming in from Rivertowns school districts, and the results, while far from alarming, aren't perfect either.

In Irvington, results of testing at Dows Lane and Main Street Schools were released to the community last week in a letter from Schools Superintendent Kristopher Harrison. Seven of 118 sink faucets at Dows Lane tested above acceptable limits, as did five of 28 at Main Street School. All the failing faucets were taken out of service, awaiting remediation. At the middle and high school facility, 22 sink faucets (17 of them in science labs) out of 238 in the building were above acceptable limits.

The failing water outlets were found only in sinks. “At this point, the good news is none of the fountains were found to be beyond the action level,” Carol Stein, Irvington’s assistant superintendent for business and operations, told the Enterprise on Oct. 21. Stein said the school district was hiring a consultant to help develop a remediation plan.

In Ardsley, 13 of 242 samples taken at Concord Road Elementary School and Ardsley Middle School failed the testing. Three water fountains at Concord Road were removed and another water fountain was replaced and a filter installed. Filters were installed on the failing sinks at Concord Road; at the middle school, two sinks in the nurse’s office and one in the library Mac lab failed; their faucets were replaced and filters were installed. According to Joseph Urbanowicz, Ardsley’s director of facilities and transportation, “We had no water sources at Ardsley High School that were over the EPA [Environmental Protection Agency] action level.”

Hastings sampled 89 water sources at Hillside Elementary School and found 15 with unacceptable lead concentrations. Schools Roy Montesano wrote to district families that two of these were drinking fountains, which were being shut off, and the remaining ones were sinks, which would have signs posted nearby to warn students and staff not to use them for drinking water. At the Farragut Complex, Montesano said no drinking fountains had unacceptable lead levels. But of the 122 samples collected at Farragut, 37 sources, including sinks and hose bibs located either in classrooms or custodial closets, exceeded acceptable levels and warning signs were being installed.

Dobbs Ferry Schools were still in the process of testing and results were not yet available as the Enterprise went to press.

The EPA “action level” is 15 parts per billion. For samples that exceed the action level, schools are required to prohibit use of the water outlet until a lead remediation plan is put in place and until test results prove that the lead levels are below the action level. During that waiting period, schools must provide an adequate supply of water for drinking and cooking. They must also report the new testing results to parents, staff, and the state Department of Health (DOH).

On Sept. 6, Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed a law mandating that schools have their water evaluated by a state-approved testing lab by Oct. 31, report results to parents, staff and government agencies, and develop and implement a lead remediation plan where needed. Under the law, schools must test all water fixtures currently or potentially used for drinking or cooking, such as drinking fountains or faucets. From each outlet, they are required to obtain a 250 ml. “first draw sample” — that is, water collected from a cold-water outlet that has not been used that day. The water must have stood motionless in the pipes for at least eight hours, but not more than 18 hours before a sample is collected.

Schools that serve grades pre-K through 5 were required to complete their collection of samples by Sept. 30; schools serving grades 6 through 12 had to complete their sample collection by Oct. 31. If schools had performed the required testing anytime since Jan. 1, 2015, they were not required to take new samples. However, all schools will be required to retest in 2020 or earlier if the state health commissioner determines that it’s necessary.

On Sept. 29, the DOH launched a statewide electronic reporting system (SERS) to track the water sampling results. All schools are required to report results to the SERS within 10 business days of receiving the results from their testing lab.

According to information on lead testing released by New York State, facilities where water is used intermittently, such as schools, are more likely to have elevated lead levels because still water is in direct contact with plumbing materials for prolonged periods of time. Some old plumbing equipment may contain significant amounts of lead, but problems can be found in buildings that are relatively new.

In 1986, federal laws were enacted requiring new plumbing fixtures that could be used for drinking water to be lead free, but those laws allowed certain fixtures and fittings with up to 8 percent lead to be labeled “lead free.”

In 2011, Congress passed the Reduction of Lead in Drinking Water Act, lowering the maximum lead content of plumbing products from 8 percent to .25 percent.

Read more local coverage of your hometown in this week’s issue of the Rivertowns Enterprise. Newsstand copies are available at several locations listed above, or subscribe today for convenient home delivery.

October 28, 2016

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