Lead levels of some water samples taken at J.H.S. 259 William McKinley have sparked concern in the school community and beyond.
The New York Department of Education (DOE) sent a letter home to parents on Friday, January 20, releasing the results of recent testing and explaining what they mean. “On December 24, 2016, every potential source of water for drinking or preparing food at I.S. 259 was tested for lead,” said DOE Deputy Chancellor Elizabeth Rose. “The laboratory results showed elevated levels of lead in 10 of the 118 samples of water taken and tested from outlets in the building.”
“When I saw that letter, I was very concerned,” parent Chris Robles told this paper. “I think it’s good that the school is being proactive in dealing with it. The concern is finding the lead source and what exposure kids have had throughout the year. It’s a huge concern. Lead can cause cognitive dysfunction. It’s such a dangerous substance for kids to have.”
According to the DOE’s letter, the Public Health Law and New York State Health Department (NYSDOH) require that, in any building where lead test results show even one water outlet above the action level of 15 parts per billion (15 ppb), any drinking or cooking water fixture outlets with elevated levels be removed from service. In addition, all or part of the system, as appropriate, must be flushed to eliminate water sitting in pipes overnight, and equipment must be replaced and then re-tested.
Of the 10 water sources with elevated lead levels at McKinley, 7305 Fort Hamilton Parkway, the samples with the highest amount of lead included 577 ppb in a cold water faucet in a classroom, 185 ppb in a classroom bubbler, 126 ppb in another classroom faucet, and 121 ppb in the kitchen’s ice maker. One of the cafeteria’s hand-washing stations registered 80 ppb.
All of the outlets in the school that tested above allowable levels have been taken out of service and will be replaced, according to the DOE. Each of the affected fixtures will remain out of service until remediation work is completed and future testing provides results below the action level.
Assemblymember Pamela Harris voiced her concern. “The presence of lead in the water at J.H.S. 259 William McKinley is completely unacceptable,” she told this paper in a statement. “We have a responsibility to ensure our children can grow and learn in a safe environment. That’s why I voted for a new law last year requiring all schools to regularly test their water for lead. Clean water is a basic right, and I’ll keep fighting in Albany to make sure our kids aren’t being put in danger.”
However, Toya Holness, deputy press secretary for the DOE, claimed that the issue was being addressed. “Parents can rest assured that water in New York City is of the highest quality in the world and we have stringent protocols and robust procedures in place to ensure that water in school buildings is safe for students and staff,” she said in a statement. “This is standard protocol and there is no reason for alarm. We are continuing to provide students and staff with safe drinking water.”
The McKinley Parent Teacher Association (PTA) said that faculty has reached out to worried parents. “In regards to the lead levels, on Tuesday, January 24, McKinley held a General PTA Meeting at 6:30 p.m. and Principal (Janice) Geary discussed the matter in depth and disclosed all precautionary safety measures taken,” the PTA said in a statement sent to this paper. “All communications concerning this matter were distributed to all parents electronically and backpacked home with the children.”
“I know other parents are concerned as well,” added Robles. “As a concerned parent, I want to make sure water is safe.”
At the time of press, Geary was unavailable for comment.
For more information regarding the testing program or sampling results , visit www.schools.nyc.gov/AboutUs/schools/watersafety.htm.