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Lead Levels in Bronx School's Water 16 Times Higher Than in Flint, Michigan

By  Eddie Small and Trevor Kapp | February 6, 2017 6:29pm 

 Councilman Andy King held a press conference at P.S. 41 on Monday afternoon about the high levels of lead found in the school's water.
Councilman Andy King held a press conference at P.S. 41 on Monday afternoon about the high levels of lead found in the school's water.
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Councilman Andy King's Office

THE BRONX — Lead levels in the water of an Olinville school tested 16 times higher than Flint, Michigan, according to a letter to parents from the city Department of Education.

P.S. 41 at 3352 Olinville Ave. and I.S. 158 in Morrisania were both found to have levels of lead higher than the EPA's "action level" threshold of 15 parts per billion (ppb), according to letters the Department of Education sent out to families and staff at the schools.

Lead levels in the water at P.S. 41 were particularly high, with five faucets testing above 100 ppb.

A cold water faucet in a fifth floor bathroom for adults tested 442 ppb, the most toxic level in the school.

At I.S. 158, high levels of lead in the water were found in three classrooms, the kitchen, the boys locker room, the weight room and the second floor girls bathroom, according to a notice shared with DNAinfo by a teacher at the school.

The highest level of lead was in a cold water faucet in the girls bathroom on the second floor, which tested at 63.8 ppb, while the slop sink in the kitchen tested at 52 ppb.

During the Flint, Michigan water crisis, 90 percent of 271 homes tested were at about 27 ppb, according to a January 2016 Washington Post report.

However, the lead crisis in Flint stemmed from a chemical problem, while the lead found in New York schools likely comes from pipes.

City Councilman Andy King, whose granddaughter goes to P.S. 41, held a press conference at the school on Monday afternoon, where he discussed the work being done to resolve the high lead levels and said he was allocating $400,000 for renovations of the school's bathrooms.

"This building is over 75 years of age," King said. "That means what? Anything that's 75 plus...needs some maintenance. And that means if we've got to update some pipes, if we've got to update some fixtures, then we must do so."

The DOE sent out a letter to families and staff on Jan. 27 about P.S. 41 saying all outlets that had tested above the "action level" of 15 ppb had been taken out of service and will be replaced. They will remain out of service until future testing shows that they are below 15 ppb.

The same steps will be taken at I.S. 158, according to the notice.

Lead contamination typically comes from pipes that have not been used for an extended period of time, and problems with lead in schools can usually be traced back to a piece of equipment that will then immediately be removed, repaired or designated solely as a hand washing station, not a station where people can drink water, city officials said.

“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," DOE spokeswoman Toya Holness 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.”

Other schools that have seen high levels of lead in their water include P.S./I.S. 217 on Roosevelt Island and the NEST+m school on the Lower East Side.

Lead is a neurotoxin that can be harmful when it gets inside the bodies of children and adults, particularly children under six, and it can impair a child's growth, behavior and ability to learn, according to the city.