Tuesday, July 12, 2016

List of NYC schools with elevated lead levels; and follow-up questions for DOE

Update:  Beth Fertig of WNYC/Schoolbook writes today that the DOE says "At every location where elevated levels persisted after a second test, the city said it turned off the source of the water and then started making repairs or replacing the fixtures."  

The Mayoral spokesperson seems to imply something different, saying that "In the rare instance of any elevated sample, [emphasis mine] relevant fixtures and piping are replaced to the wall, and retested out of an extreme abundance of caution."   This would imply that all 509 schools with elevated samples will be, not just the 153 in which the lead levels remained elevated after flushing, but Beth emailed me that she believes that they were speaking of only the 153 schools.   In addition, as I noted belowVirginia Tech lead expert, Marc Edwards was quoted as now recommending a minimum of testing every three years - as opposed to the DOE's five year testing cycle.  So three of my questions below remain unanswered.

Ben Chapman of the Daily News wrote about the latest on NYC school water today here. It turns out that when all schools were finally tested, 509 had elevated levels of lead in at least the first sample; though in most of these schools, the levels diminished after flushing the pipes. 

It appears that 153 schools still had elevated lead on the second draw -- after sorting the list of NYC schools with elevated lead samples here .  The worst off seem to be PS 14 in D24 in Queens, with 12 elevated samples in the first draw, and 7 in the second; and PS 127 in D30 with 10 elevated samples in the first draw and 6 in the second. But check to see if your child's school is on the list.

What is good is that they say they are testing all schools now, including those built since the 1980's, contrary to DOE's original intention.  Until the Flint lead controversy occurred, the vast majority of NYC schools hadn't been tested for lead in over ten years, as pointed out by Schoolbook on March 29 -- contrary to the NY Times article which claimed a few days earlier that "All schools’ water is regularly tested."  

The DOE now says that every school will be retested for lead every five years; which runs contrary to the recommendations of the Virginia Tech lead expert, Marc Edwards, who exposed the Flint water tragedy, and recommends annual testing for lead -- at least in all schools built before 1986.   

The below DOE press release claims that "Our protocol exceeds EPA protective guidance and involves regular flushing or fixture replacement." Actually EPA guidance calls for flushing as a short term measure, and replacements of fixtures or pipes as a permanent remedy. The DOE press release below begs the following questions:
  • In which schools is the DOE going to replace the pipes and/or fixtures?
  • What oversight will be used to ensure that regular flushing will occur in the rest of schools?
  • Should parents be concerned about the ten years or more in which there was lead in the water in these schools and no flushing?
  • Should parents have their children tested for lead who attended these schools?  
Let's hope someone in the media asks DOE these questions.  



Less than 1 Percent of Final Test Results for NYC Schools Tested Positive for Lead

This latest round of testing from the DOE, in partnership with DOHMH and the EPA, reaffirms that our efforts are highly effective at keeping the water in our schools safe. Of the 112,584 samples taken, only 1.0% were found to have elevated levels that exceeded EPA guidelines on the first draw (the first water out of the tap, which would include stagnant water); just 0.19% of samples were positive second draw samples. 

The Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has invested more than $10 billion over the last decade to maintain and improve NYC's water supply infrastructure; DEP also tests the city's water over 500,000 times each year at various points throughout the system. Between 2008 and 2010, DEP worked with the Department of Education (DOE) and other City agencies to identify and remove lead service lines to schools and other municipal buildings.

This year, DOE has tested the water in every public school building, regardless of whether it was built before or after the lead ban in the 1980s.

Since 2002, any building that has had even one outlet (e.g., a sink or a fountain) with levels that exceeded EPA guidance has been put on an extensive DOHMH protocol based on EPA recommendations, which includes some combination of equipment replacement, weekly flushing, and more to ensure the safety of students and staff.

The protocol is proven to protect students and faculty for two key reasons:

·         The vast majority of elevated levels are found on first draw. Weekly flushing on Monday mornings or after school vacations - the only times at which water has been sitting in the pipes for those extended periods - is proven to quickly eliminate any elevated levels and ensure the water students and faculty drink is safe.

·         Positive tests on second draw- after water has been running-are rare. If they do happen, they can almost always be linked to a specific piece of equipment which is immediately removed, repaired, or, in rare cases of bathroom sinks, designated as a handwashing only (no drinking) station.

"Families can rest assured that water in school buildings is of the highest quality and is safe for students and staff to drink," said Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña. "Schools are following the aggressive flushing and remediation protocols that the DOE has had in place for years, and we continue to update families and school staff throughout the process."

"New York City's tap water is of the highest quality, and not a source of lead poisoning," said Health Commissioner Dr. Mary T. Bassett. "Parents should be assured by the joint efforts of our two agencies to increase transparency and accountability. Elevated lead test results in water are most often attributable to older internal plumbing and fixtures. When that occurs, schools sites implement corrective measures to reduce lead levels. Our protocol exceeds EPA protective guidance and involves regular flushing or fixture replacement. Flushing removes any built up lead in stagnant water."

This latest round of testing once again reaffirms that our protocols are protective and effective. NYC Water is of the highest quality, with extensive measures in place that meet or exceed all federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recommendations - measures that did not exist in other cities around the country that are now facing concerns about lead.

In fact, the number of children in New York City with lead poisoning has declined 80 percent since 2002; and in 2015, the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH) referred, based on blood lead test results, just 45 of the 1.1 million public school children in NYC to the DOE for investigation. In all 45 cases, EPA-certified consultants and the City examined every classroom and home and took appropriate action as needed; there were no cases in which water was determined to be the source of elevated lead levels.

Results for individual schools can be found on a first-of-its-kind web portal that allows families and faculty members to track the results of the lead testing and protection measures that have been in place in public schools since 2002. Final test results are immediately shared with families and posted on the DOE's website. Letters backpacked home to families with details regarding the results are available in nine languages, as requested by school staff, and principals are available to address any questions that may arise. In the rare occurrence that a school has elevated results, families receive a second letter with updates once remediation and follow-up testing are completed.

DOE, in partnership with DOHMH, will continue to test schools based on DOHMH and EPA recommendations - in fact exceeding the frequency of testing recommended in the EPA's guidance. For the limited number of buildings that had even one outlet above recommended levels in a previous test, this includes continued implementation of the DOHMH protocol and regular retesting thereafter - with three-draw samples taken within six months or one year of the initial tests to continue to confirm the effectiveness of flushing, and regular retesting every two years thereafter. Schools that have not tested positive for elevated levels will still be retested every five years. Schools with construction that could disturb, vibrate, or shift plumbing and/or fixture will be immediately retested. The City is also offering free guidance and testing to private nonpublic schools.

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