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UWS School's Water Has Lead Levels 80 Times Above Federal Limit, City Says

By Trevor Kapp | February 8, 2017 11:15am
 P.S. 87 at 160 W. 78th St.
P.S. 87 at 160 W. 78th St.
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Facebook/P.S. 87

UPPER WEST SIDE — Water from classroom faucets at two neighborhood schools contained high concentrations of lead during routine inspections — including one that tested positive at a rate 80 times higher than the federal limit, officials said.

The city's Department of Education recently started sending letters to parents notifying them of high lead levels discovered in water samples at their children's schools, amid a flurry of testing overseen by the agency at schools across the city in recent months.

While the DOE would not release to DNAinfo New York all the results it's gotten back from schools so far, parents from P.S. 87 and P.S. 9 received letters last month notifying them that a concerning level of lead was found in several faucets in the school. 

Water from a faucet in a classroom and another in a girl's bathroom at P.S. 87 on West 78th Street showed lead-level results at 1,191 parts per billion (ppb) and 16.8 ppb, respectively, DOE spokeswoman Toya Holness said.

The Environmental Protection Agency's "action level" threshold is set at 15 ppb, with anything at that level or higher requiring the city to intervene.

At P.S. 9 on West 84th Street, samples from faucets in three classrooms came back positive at 21.9, 71.4 and 60.5 ppb, according to the DOE.

Tests at both schools were conducted on Jan. 10 as part of the DOE's citywide faucet exams.

Of the results that are known, elevated concentrations of lead were also found at P.S. 41 and I.S. 158 in The Bronx, at the Nest+m school on the Lower East Side and P.S./I.S. 217 on Roosevelt Island.

In most cases, including the two schools on the Upper West Side, the affected faucets were not drinking fountains. Both the DOE and the city's Department of Environmental Protection have stressed that the source of the lead is likely from the fixture itself or the pipes in the school buildings, and not a result of the water's quality. 

Officials said they were looking into the source of the lead at these and other schools, but they could not pinpoint the exact cause of the contamination at these two schools. 

“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," Holness said.

"This is standard protocol and there is no reason for alarm: we are continuing to provide students and staff with safe drinking water."

All affected faucets will be tested again after remediation, officials said, though they did not specify when the retests would occur. 

Until then, water fixtures that tested positive with high levels are not supposed to be used and each school is instructed to flush it's entire water system at the beginning of each week so water is not standing in the pipes for an extended amount of time, officials said.

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

Education officials will be meeting with parents from P.S. 9 and P.S. 87 to brief them on the results at 6 p.m. Wednesday inside P.S. 9's auditorium, according to the school's website.

P.S. 9 parent Sam Park said he plans to attend.

“It’s unfortunate, but it’s a reality of living in New York City,” said Park, 41, whose son is in kindergarten at the school. “The infrastructure in these schools is so old that there’s lead piping throughout the system.

“I think the main thing is, how long has it been going on for?”

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.