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 below, Virginia 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.
- 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?
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:
"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.