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Friday, 21 October 2016 09:44
Lead Levels In School Fountain: Three Saratoga Schools Take Action
SARATOGA SPRINGS — The Saratoga Springs City School District has recently learned that three of its elementary schools have lead levels in drinking water that exceed 15 parts per billion (ppb), the level deemed “actionable” by the Environmental Protection Agency and New York State Law. One school was found to have a drinking fountain with lead levels at 930 ppb. As required by law, the district has begun immediate action for remediation under the guidance of the Department of Health. The district states on its website, “While we know that this information may cause some concern, we are taking the necessary steps to address the situation and confirm the safety of water throughout the district. There is nothing that we take more seriously than the well-being of our students and staff.” According to the lead levels testing results posted on the district website, the highest levels were found at Dorothy Nolan Elementary, in the Room 201 Drinking Fountain which had lead levels of 930 ppb. The second highest of lead levels at the school were found in the Room 204 Drinking Fountain at 79 ppb. At Division Street Elementary, the highest levels were found at the Room 139 Drinking Fountain 1, which were 120 ppb. The second highest was at Kitchen Sink A, which had lead levels of 61 ppb. At Lake Avenue Elementary, the highest lead levels were found in the Custodial Office Slop Sink Hose Spigot of 83 ppb, and the second highest was at the Hallway Fountain on the 3rd Floor of 64 ppb. The state Department of Health (NYSDOH) released the following statement: “New York State is leading the nation in proactively protecting children against the dangers of lead poisoning with new legislation that requires schools to test for lead in drinking water. Any exceedance of the action level (15 mcg/L (micrograms per liter)) for lead in drinking water requires the school to take immediate action to discontinue use of the water outlet in order to protect children from further exposure.” The drinking fountains and other spigots for drinking or cooking have been shut down, and those spigots used for washing purposes have been restricted and labeled not to be used for ingestion. According to school district spokesperson Maura Manny, bottled water will be provided if another water source below the permissible level is not easily accessible. The testing was done under a new, mandatory New York State law requiring school districts to test for lead in the school water systems. The law went into effect September of this year. The district conducted the tests with the help of a state-approved laboratory in all six elementary schools by the end of September. The middle and high schools will have testing completed by the end of October. The Capital Region BOCES communications department put together a flyer to help parents and schools understand the new state law mandating schools test all sources of drinking water. That flyer can be found on the Saratoga Springs City School District website. Jessica Scheckton, assistant director of communications for the Capital Region BOCES, stressed the importance of schools working with their local department of health to understand the nuances of the new regulations. The Centers for Disease Control website states that human skin does not absorb lead, and that bathing and hand washing are safe even in water above the 15 ppb action level. However, water with any lead level should not be drunk, especially by pregnant women and small children. In a March 17, 2016 USA Today article, the media outlet learned that the EPA had once stated on its website that “lead at concentrations of 40 ppb or higher poses an imminent and substantial endangerment to the health of children and pregnant women. This calculation uses a risk assessment model that is based on exposure to young, school-aged children.” That statement found by USA Today is still listed on archived EPA web pages dating 2002 to 2004, but the EPA has since removed that statement and no longer provides a specific “do not drink” level. Instead, the EPA and CDC both stress that there are no safe levels of lead. The CDC site also states that most children do not show symptoms of high lead in their bloodstream, and that the only way to know for sure is to have the child receive a blood test for lead levels. NYSDOH agrees, and submitted the following statement for this article, “There are many factors that influence a child’s risk for lead poisoning from the presence of lead in water including: the amount of water consumed, child’s age and weight, and whether the child has also been exposed to lead from paint, soil, dust or other sources. The only way to know for sure is to have the child tested for lead.” The health department also stated that, “Where levels are only slightly above 15 ppb, it is unlikely that children are consuming water from school sources in amounts that pose a health risk. Children are much more likely to have high levels of exposure from sources such as lead paint chips in older homes.” Lead poisoning, especially in children 6 years old and younger, can lead to slower growth and development; problems with hearing, speech, and behavior; and can make it difficult to learn and pay attention. The CDC, the BOCES flyer, and other professionals all recommend families speak with their healthcare providers if they have any health questions or concerns. The NYSDOH added, “Parents whose children are in the locations where lead was found in the drinking water should ask their children’s health care providers whether blood lead testing would be appropriate for their child. Women who are pregnant or planning to become pregnant and spend significant time in those locations should also discuss lead exposure and testing with their health care provider. New York State law requires that children receive a blood lead test at age 1 and again at age 2 so most health care providers will have information on your child’s previous blood lead level already.” The Saratoga Springs City School District lead testing results and additional information from the EPA and NYSDOH can be found on the school district’s website at http://www.saratogaschools.org/news.cfm?story=106422&.