State Lawmakers Mandate Testing For Elevated Lead Levels In Schools’ Water

By Jano Tantongco

jtantongco@longislandergroup.com

Representatives from 30 Suffolk school districts recently gathered at a forum addressing elevated levels of lead in drinking water. The forum was hosted by Suffolk County Water Authority, Suffolk County Department of Health Services and Suffolk Legislator William “Doc” Spencer, who is also chairman of the county’s Health Committee.

Representatives from 30 Suffolk school districts recently gathered at a forum addressing elevated levels of lead in drinking water. The forum was hosted by Suffolk County Water Authority, Suffolk County Department of Health Services and Suffolk Legislator William “Doc” Spencer, who is also chairman of the county’s Health Committee.

A state law mandating periodic testing for elevated lead levels in water used by school districts across New York was passed through the legislature last week.

State Assemblyman Andrew Raia (R-East Northport), a co-sponsor, said the legislation was spurred by an “aging infrastructure.”

“Most of our schools were built when they were using lead solder to solder the pipes together. Over time, that tends to leach potentially into the water,” Raia added.

Previously there was no state law governing when school districts tested for elevated lead levels. Gov. Andrew Cuomo had not yet signed the bill into law as of deadline Tuesday.

Raia said the bill, which has long been in discussion, was passed in final days of the legislative session. It also provides state aid for schools to remediate lead-ridden infrastructure, but Raia could not confirm an exact dollar amount.

“When the children are development, they’re most susceptible to lead, they’re more susceptible to a lot of these chemicals as the brains develop, so you really want to be ahead of the curve so you don’t have those surprises,” Raia said.

Locally, the Commack, Elwood and Northport-East Northport school districts were already testing for elevated lead levels in their water supplies prior to the state law being passed. They’re three of many school districts across Long Island that have reportedly begun testing after the water contamination crisis in Flint, Michigan.

A June 14 post made to the Commack School District’s website reported that new fixtures were installed on all kitchen sinks that tested positive for lead in early testing. It also explained that a second round of testing found elevated lead levels in two drinking fountains that were not in operation, which were then removed.

All other affected water fountains have been shut down and will be fix or replaced as soon as new fixtures become available. Initial testing in the district began in early April.

Commack’s statement said the highest levels of lead were found in slop sinks, not drinking or cooking water.

“Elevated blood lead levels come from ingestion and inhalation, not from hand washing or cleaning of facilities,” Glenn Neuschwender, president of Enviroscience Consultants, said in the statement. “The district followed all protocols established by the Environmental Protection Agency and is in the process of remediating the conditions."

Last month, in a letter written to parents of the Elwood School District, Superintendent of Schools Peter Scordo said testing was done at four schools across the district.

John Glenn High School’s testing came back with results within federal Environmental Protection Agency regulations. At James H. Boyd Intermediate School, eight water fountains were affected by elevated lead levels, and were replaced. One work room faucet that tested positive was replaced at Elwood Middle School. And, at Harley Avenue Primary School, there were 13 affected water sources, which have been shut down pending additional testing.

As for Northport-East Northport, 12 total water fountains across the district were found to have elevated levels of lead.

Three affected water fountains were discovered at both Ocean Avenue Elementary School and Pulaski Road Elementary School; two were found at both Dickson Avenue Elementary School and Norwood Avenue Elementary School; and one each tested positive at East Northport Middle School and Northport High School.

Northport-East Northport Superintendent of Schools Robert Banzer did not respond to a request for comment before deadline Tuesday.