Lead in water found in 83% of city schools


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DOE protocols call for immediate remediation when outlets are identified


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  • Photo: Jeffrey Zeldman, via flickr



Tests of every public school in the city during the 2016-17 year revealed that 83 percent of buildings had at least one water sample with lead levels above the state-mandated action level of 15 parts per billion. Roughly 8 percent of all samples showed elevated results, according to the city's Department of Education.

Under DOE protocol, drinking and cooking water outlets with elevated lead levels are immediately taken out of service and subjected to remediation, which includes “flushing all or part of the system to eliminate water sitting in pipes overnight, replacing equipment and keeping affected drinking and cooking water outlets out of service until follow-up testing shows those outlets no longer have elevations.”

In an April 2017 letter to families and staff, DOE Deputy Chancellor Elizabeth A. Rose said the department's testing “demonstrates that we do not have any systemic issues with water in our school buildings and our remediation protocol is effective.” There has never been a known case of lead poisoning due to water in New York City schools, Rose wrote in the letter.

Exposure to lead can result in a variety of harmful effects, including high blood pressure, kidney damage and infertility. Because they are still developing, children are particularly susceptible to the effects of lead exposure, which can negatively impact growth and brain development. Children absorb up to 50 percent of ingested lead, while adults typically absorb 10 percent, according to the World Health Organization.

According to the DOE, elevated lead levels found in some recent tests are likely not reflective of levels seen throughout the day, as samples were conducted on water that had sat in pipes overnight. Lead concentrations drop sharply, the DOE says, after faucets are first used in the morning and stagnant water is cleared from the pipes.

The graphic accompanying this article shows the percentage of water samples in which elevated lead levels were found in school buildings on the Upper East Side during 2017 testing. This data was released by the city's Department of Education following a Freedom of Information Law request filed by Straus News. Buildings in which no elevated samples were found have been omitted.



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