News Feature | March 23, 2018

New York Schools Get 'F' For Lead In Drinking Water

Sara Jerome

By Sara Jerome,

New York officials are getting an “F” on their report cards in the category of “keeping kids safe from lead contamination.”

The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) released a review of statewide testing data from New York schools. The results were not flattering.

NRDC found that “a majority of New York State public school buildings had at least one outlet testing above the federal action level of 15 parts per billion,” according to the group.

Here are the highlights of the report, per NRDC:

  • Around 82 percent of public school buildings reported one or more taps that tested above the state lead action level (15 ppb).
  • More than 56 percent of New York public school buildings statewide tested above the state action level at five percent or more of their water outlets, with a higher rate of taps closed for schools outside New York City (59 percent) than inside New York City (51 percent).
  • Almost 2 percent of the public school buildings statewide found elevated levels for at least half of the outlets tested, with a higher rate outside New York City (2.4 percent) than in New York City (1.1 percent)
  • 16 public school buildings exceeded the state action level at every outlet tested (9 outside NYC and 7 in NYC), but some of these schools tested very few outlets, which could point to an issue with the data that was entered into the system.

In addition, a new report from WNYC stated New York City undercounts children at risk of lead exposure, since it uses a 10 micrograms per deciliter standard when testing child blood lead levels rather than the 5 microgram standard recommended by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.

“Public health experts argue the city's health department uses an outdated standard to measure high lead levels - causing thousands of children to go uncounted in the city's tally of kids most at risk,” the report said.

New York state is struggling with lead contamination on many fronts.

“Governor Cuomo already announced an emergency declaration for New York Housing Authority buildings and pledged an additional $250 million for upgrades. But heated public squabbles over resources and responsibility with rival Mayor de Blasio have complicated progress,” The New York Post reported.

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt spoke up about New York’s lead challenges this week.

“I think a local, state and federal response that is very coordinated and collaborative is terribly important,” Pruitt said in an interview. “We each play a role. I’d love to see steps taken at the local level to invest.”

Pruitt has previously called for a renewed emphasis on lead as an important feature of federal policy, sending a letter to Trump administration Cabinet leaders to discuss his lead agenda.