There are more than 6,000 water taps in the New York City elementary schools that test positive for dangerous lead levels.
The city’s education department tested the 100,000 water taps in all of the city’s elementary schools – including drinking fountains and water faucets used in kitchen, and found that more than 6,000 of them contain lead levels above 15 parts per billion, the EPAs standard for “remediation.”
How bad is it? It’s worse or better, depending on where you live in the city. Brooklyn has the most tainted faucets, some at shocking levels.
At PS 95 in Gravesend, more than a third of its 94 faucets were tainted with higher lead readings. 18 schools total in the borough contained 20 or more tainted taps. Queens had 10 schools, the Bronx seven, Manhattan had three schools, and Staten Island had two.
What are the worst examples? The worst example was in PS 92 Adrian Hegeman in Flatbush, Brooklyn. One of the 32 taps in a boys’ bathroom registered lead levels of 11,000 parts per billion, more than 700 times above safe levels.
At PS 95 Eastwood in Jamaica, Queens, one first-floor cafeteria tap showed a lead level of 3,200 parts per billion, or 213 times more than the safe threshold.
Why now? The district undertook a test of all their drinking fountains and taps after the water crisis in Flint, Michigan became front and center in the public mind. There was increased concern by parents over possible lead contamination in the drinking water.
What has been done? The city education department has promised parents and the community that all suspected water sources have been removed and that they are working to fix the problem.
“New York City’s drinking water is of the highest quality, and families can rest assured that water in schools is safe for students and staff to drink,” DOE spokeswoman Toya Holness told The New York Post. “The water delivered from the upstate reservoir system is lead free, and there has never been a known case of lead poisoning due to drinking water in schools.”
New York Post: High lead levels found in some faucets at city schools
CBS New York: City Leaders Urge Action After Reports Of Elevated Lead Levels In Drinking Water At Some NYC Schools
Mayo Clinic: Lead Poisoning, Symptoms and Causes
Do people buy this? Not everyone. Dr. Morri Markowitz, director of the Lead Poisoning Treatment and Prevention Program at the Children’s Hospital at Montefiore Medical Center, said the DOE was being evasive. From The Post:
“It’s a total deflection of an answer,” he told said. “No one has actually ever looked at this. Without any systematic testing of kids in schools, we just don’t know.”
Markowitz said the matter’s urgency is frustratingly difficult to gauge. He said the 15 parts-per-billion marker is the arbitrary result of a negotiation between water providers and the EPA.
“It’s not a health-based standard,” he said.
The likelihood of lead poisoning, he said, depends on several variables, including a child’s size, how much water he actually consumes, the lead level and over what period of time.
“At some point, we need testing and research,” Markowitz said. “We need to actually define the risk here.”
What are the effects of lead poisoning? Over time, lead poisoning can cause brain damage, damage to the kidneys and nervous system – effects that are irreversible. Short-term effects include learning difficulties, irritability, weight loss, vomiting, sluggishness and constipation.