Friday, April 28, 2017

Updated: 83% of NYC school buildings have elevated levels of lead -- check the results here -- and more confusing messages from DOE

Update: See the interview on NY1 with Dr. Marc Edwards saying there is no safe level of lead in water.  See also today's NY Times says DOE is  flushing water from affected schools in addition to other remediation efforts -- which still doesn't explain how many schools have had fixtures replaced and how many have successfully brought down lead levels below the state limits.  The NYT also takes credit for the DOE testing the water correctly with the first draw and without pre-flushing, though unmentioned is that a new  state law required all districts to retest schools according to the new protocol by October 31.  

The NYT also repeats the standard DOE quote that "there had never been a known case of lead poisoning traced to drinking water in schools" without explaining that school-age children are rarely tested for lead. Nor as far as I know has the Paper of Record ever reported on the recommendations of the American Academy of Pediatrics that remediation be required in any school where lead levels are above 1 ppb, rather than the 15 ppb limit currently in state law.

See the DOE spreadsheet of results from testing the outlets for leaD in each school posted here.  To the right is the summary of the results.
Despite  the claim by DOE below that a more detailed breakdown of the results is available here on the NY State Department of Health  website, they don’t seem to be included in that comprehensive list– perhaps because DOE completed their testing months later than all the other districts in the state  and months after the legal deadline.

The spreadsheet they did provide has lots of important data missing, including how many affected outlets there were in each school and what actual levels of lead `were found. 

The fact that 83% of schools had at least one affected water outlet does not appear to support the rosy tone of the DOE statement below that “the number of elevations are minimal” – or the assurances that “There has never been a known case of lead poisoning due to drinking water in schools” given the fact that few children are tested for lead after age 4, and any detectable level of lead in a child’s blood has been linked to intellectual and behavioral problems.

Lead experts Dr. Marc Edwards of Virginia Tech and Dr. Morri Markowitz of Montefiore Hospital, both quoted in an earlier NY Post article here, would probably not be so optimistic.  I am quoted in today's DNAinfo that the DOE should consider the need to test students for lead, especially in schools where the highest concentrations were found -- though Dr. Edwards said that might give parents false confidence since even excessive amounts of lead are removed from a child's  blood within 30 days, and after that, the damage has probably been done.  

The DOE also omits the information that I wrote about here, that the American Pediatric Association recommends remediation for any fixture or outlet where the water tests more than 1 ppb, vs. the 15 ppb that NY state has adopted -- because any detectable level of lead has been shown to have a negative impact on children's behavior and intellectual abilities.  In addition to considering the stricter standard, the city should also test water outlets in public libraries and recreation centers for lead, as Washington DC has now done.

Still, the summary available on the DOE spreadsheet is far more informative that the letter that principals are supposed to send home to parent and the statement below. Instead of mentioning the 83% figure, the letter  says this: "Using State standards, 92% of our fixtures system-wide tested below guidance. This demonstrates that we do not have any systemic issues with water in our school buildings and our remediation protocol is effective."  Again, the messages sent out by DOE is confusing.  Is this after remediation or before?  

And see this from below: "Our comprehensive remediation protocol also includes replacing fixtures with elevated results as well as piping to the walls, and placing schools with elevated results on a weekly morning flushing protocol."  Why are they still flushing the pipes if remediation has worked?  Flushing as opposed to replacement is  not an approved  strategy according to the state law or or the EPA.

Message to reporters from the DOE:

New York City water is of the highest quality and water in schools is safe for students and staff to drink. The DOE’s rigorous testing protocol was developed in partnership with City and State agencies and we recently completed water testing on all school buildings across the City. Of all of the potential drinking water sources in the 1,544 buildings that were tested for the presence of lead, 8 percent (10,633 of 132,276) of samples taken had results over 15ppb. This is lower than the statewide average of 14 percent. Additionally, the number of drinking fixtures with results over 15ppb is 1.5 percent of all fixtures that were tested. A summary is attached and a detailed breakdown of the results is available here.

92 percent of all fixtures sampled tested below the action level of 15ppb. This demonstrates that our water system as a whole is safe and reliable. All cooking and drinking water fixtures with results over 15ppb are immediately taken offline and are only placed back online once they have been remediated and results from updated tests are below 15ppb. Our comprehensive remediation protocol also includes replacing fixtures with elevated results as well as piping to the walls, and placing schools with elevated results on a weekly morning flushing protocol.

Testing began in late November and families have been receiving detailed letters with results about their child’s school on a rolling basis. Schools and families received these letters within 10 days of when the DOE received the results, and in many cases, letters were distributed within 24 hours. The letter and the complete laboratory reports are also posted on each school’s website, with translated versions available in 10 languages. We continue to host community meetings across the City to ensure all questions from families and staff are being addressed.

The documents that are being shared with schools and families include details on the City’s water source, an overview of the DOE’s testing and remediation protocols, and information from DOHMH about the health effects of lead and what parents should do if they are concerned about their child’s exposure to lead. New York City water that is delivered from the upstate reservoir system is lead free and DEP conducts over 500,000 tests annually throughout the system. There has never been a known case of lead poisoning due to drinking water in schools. DOHMH investigates cases of elevated lead levels in blood samples from children, and the most common source of lead exposure for children with elevated blood lead levels is lead-based paint.

Nothing is more important than the safety of students and staff and we remain vigilant in our testing and remediation processes. As outlined in our testing protocol and as required by the State, samples are taken on a first draw basis only after water has been stagnant for a minimum of 8 hours, and sometimes much longer. When the water runs for even a few seconds, fresh water flows through the fixture and has lower lead levels.

This round of citywide testing also included all charter schools in DOE buildings. The New York City Health Code requires child care programs, including Pre-K for All programs, to test their water for lead levels, report results to DOHMH and remediate any outlet with test results above 15ppb. Information about test results at child care programs and the status of any remediation is on DOHMH’s website, Child Care Connect.

Attributable to Deputy Chancellor Elizabeth Rose: “Families should rest assured that water in schools is safe for students and staff to drink. As our citywide test results confirm, the number of elevations are minimal and we take immediate action to remediate all fixtures with results above 15ppb. We have shared detailed information with schools and families, and will continue to keep communities updated.”

Attributable to First Deputy Health Commissioner Dr. Oxiris Barbot: “Since 2005 we have seen an 86% decline in lead poisoning cases among children. We feel confident that the DOE is taking the right actions by taking drinking fixtures that have had lead exceedances off line until they can be replaced. Generally, these elevated levels are not reflective of the water children drink throughout the day, but concerned parents should speak to their child’s health care provider.”

Attributable to DEP Acting Commissioner Vincent Sapienza: “New York City tap water is world renowned for its taste and high quality. Our scientists conduct more than 500,000 tests each year to ensure the water meets or exceeds all state and federal health and safety guidelines.”

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