Elected officials and DOE clash over lead in water in Brooklyn public schools

Concerns continue to rise regarding elevated lead levels in water in public schools in Brooklyn and the other four boroughs.

On Thursday, March 2, the city’s five borough presidents, including Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, spoke out about the issue in a joint letter to Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña, imploring the New York City Department of Education (DOE) to take action to ensure the safety of students given the number of schools where water sampling has revealed unacceptably high lead levels.

“The health and safety of our children come first, plain and simple,” said Adams. “We must ensure the highest standards are implemented and sustained when it comes to the drinking water in our public schools. Reports of elevated lead levels at some buildings need to be taken seriously, and that starts with ensuring every affected school has access to safe water and free lead exposure testing.”

In the joint letter, the borough presidents call for immediate action. “The health and quality of life of our children and their families are at stake,” it states. “First and foremost, the DOE’s immediate action should be providing an alternative water supply to all affected schools, either through the form of bottled water or water coolers.”

They also recommended that all students be offered free testing for lead exposure and that all DOE schools receive water  filtration systems to prevent future contamination and regular testing for contamination.

“According to the EPA even low levels of lead in the blood of children can cause numerous problems, including behavior and learning problems, lower IQ and hyperactivity, slowed growth, hearing problems, anemia and others,” the letter added, with the borough presidents stressing, “While we understand that it takes some time to repair and replace contaminated  fixtures,  our children should not be unnecessarily exposed to high levels of lead while they wait for those changes to take place. The tragedy of Flint, Michigan should not be repeated.”

In February, lead levels of some water samples taken at J.H.S. 259 William McKinley sparked concern. 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 and 185 ppb in a classroom bubbler.

However, McKinley isn’t the only District 20 School with elevated levels of lead.

While the official New York City Department of Education’s (DOE) website states that the water in every New York City public school was tested for lead in 2016 and the vast majority of test results were not elevated, according to the site, which allows users to check every school’s water test results, a large majority of District 20 schools tested for elevated samples in some outlets.

Although the site doesn’t provide numbers for how elevated the ppb is, some 27 schools in the district had at least seven samples that tested positive, with 20 schools having at least 10 elevated water samples.

The school that had the largest number of elevated samples in December, 2016 was P.S. 200, 1940 Benson Avenue, where 22 out of 130 samples tested had elevated lead levels.

In Dyker Heights, at J.H.S. 201, 8010 12th Avenue, 19 out of 88 samples tested were deemed elevated.

P.S. 204, 8101 15 Avenue, clocked in at 14 elevated samples out of 119 tested that same month, and the High School of Telecommunication Arts and Technology, 350 67th Street, had 12 elevated samples out of 131.

P.S. 102, P.S. 69 and P.S. 176 all had 11 elevated samples.

Parent Brian Leonard, whose two sons attend P.S. 176, wrote to this paper about his concerns. “It’s 2017. We know how dangerous lead is to children for a long time now,” he stated. “Because of the elevated lead, they have started to buy bottled water in the school. The DOE should be having meetings with parents to directly discuss their remediation plans. Not just send home letters.”

There were a couple of schools that received a perfect score. No elevated lead samples were found at Fort Hamilton High School or P.S. 205, or at the Pre-K Centers at 2165 71st Street and 1355 84th Street.

According to DOE, there is little need for panic for parents and their students. “New York City’s drinking water is of the highest quality and the water delivered from the upstate reservoir system is lead free,” said Toya Holness, deputy press secretary for the agency. “Parents can rest assured that water in schools is safe for students and staff to drink, and there is no need for bottled water. There has never been a known case of lead poisoning due to drinking water in schools. Any drinking or cooking water fixture with results over 15 parts per billion (ppb) is immediately taken offline and remediated.

“The safety of students and staff is our top priority and we have rigorous testing and remediation protocols in place,” added Holness. “Citywide testing is nearly complete, results are being shared with families, and any elevated fixtures have been successfully remediated or are remaining out of service until remediation is complete.”

To find out if a school has elevated water samples, visit www.schools.nyc.gov.

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