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Lead Levels Higher Than Flint, Michigan, in Roosevelt Island School's Water

By Shaye Weaver | February 2, 2017 7:27am
 Eight out of 100 tests came back positive for elevated levels of lead at the P.S./I.S. Roosevelt Island school this month.
Eight out of 100 tests came back positive for elevated levels of lead at the P.S./I.S. Roosevelt Island school this month.
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Facebook/P.S./I.S. 217

ROOSEVELT ISLAND — High levels of lead were found in water samples from a classroom, library, kitchen and other sources at a Roosevelt Island public school last month, according to officials — with some tests revealing levels higher than samples taken at Flint, Michigan, during its water crisis.

Eight faucets in P.S./I.S. 217, at 645 Main St., were removed after a Jan. 10 inspection revealed lead concentrations in water samples high enough to require action from the city. The EPA's "action level" threshold is set at 15 parts per billion (ppb).

Water from the school's first floor kitchen tested at 60.2 ppb, a boys dressing room showed 23.4 ppb, a second-floor classroom came in at 23.5 ppb, the library at 68.9 ppb, a locker room at 16.5 ppb, and three weight room faucets tested at 35.9 ppb, 3,430 ppb and 655 ppb, according to the city's Department of Education.

By comparison, 90 percent of 271 homes tested in Flint, Michigan during its water crisis tested at about 27 ppb, according to a Washington Post report from January 2016.

The lead source in Flint was a "chemical problem" though, while the lead in P.S./I.S. 217 is likely from pipes, according to Department of Environmental Protection spokesman Ted Timbers.

Parents were notified of the contamination in a Jan. 25, 2017 letter, in which Department of Education officials said that eight out of 100 samples taken at the school showed elevated levels of the metal.

The DOE would not say whether lower levels were found in the other 98 samples, but spokeswoman Toya Holness said that they had results under 15 ppb. And the higher concentration was found in cold water faucets, not drinking fountains, she added.

The eight affected faucets have since been removed so they cannot be used and the school is flushing the school's entire water system weekly until they can be re-tested, according to Holness.

In the letter to parents, DOE Deputy Chancellor Elizabeth Rose writes that the water fixtures will be out of service until the situation is remedied.

The DOE, which oversees lead inspections at city schools, would not immediately say when the water system at P.S./I.S 217 would be re-inspected.

"Generally, what we see on the second draw [of water], levels tend to drop fairly dramatically," said Dr. Oxiris Barbot, the first deputy commissioner of the city's Department of Health. "The levels we're seeing as a result of the tests don't reflect a steady level throughout a school."

Erin Olavesen, a spokeswoman for the school's PTA, said they weren't aware of any students or staff getting sick from the lead.

"Of course the PTA and parents will be keeping a close eye on the situation," she told DNAinfo New York on Monday. "DOE has promised they'll conduct further testing, and we're hoping to see positive results."

DOE, DEP and DOH officials would not speak specifically about the source of lead at the school, but said generally lead contamination comes from pipes that haven't been used for extended periods.

For any school that has elevated levels on second draws, the problems can almost always be traced to a specific piece of equipment, which is either immediately removed, repaired or in some rare cases designated as hand-washing stations only rather than drinkable water, officials explained.

"It's the lead pipes, lead solder, or the fixtures could be the source of the lead," Timbers said. "It could also be the test didn't work."

Lead, which is a neurotoxin, can be harmful to the developing brain and nervous system of those under 6 years old, according to the DOE.

The Roosevelt Islander blog first reported the story.

Schools are required to collect samples at least every five years, thanks to a law enacted by Gov. Andrew Cuomo in September 2016. Previously, schools were not required to test their water for lead or notify parents or the government of their results.

The city began testing 1,800 school buildings across the city in the spring of last year, but many parents said they did not receive the results. Inspections in June found that of roughly 700 buildings tested, 66 percent had elevated lead levels in at least one sample and 2 percent (14 schools) had 10 or more with elevated lead levels, including six Queens school buildings.

Read more: 

► Info on Lead Levels in City Schools' Water Isn't Reaching Parents, Some Say

► City Website to Reassure Parents About Safe Water at Schools Confuses Some