NEW YORK — Students should receive free lead testing and free bottled water in the wake of high lead levels found in the water of public schools, the city's five borough presidents wrote in a letter to the Education Department.
Borough Presidents Ruben Diaz Jr., Gale Brewer, Melinda Katz, James Oddo and Eric Adams recently penned a joint letter to the Department of Education calling on them to take immediate action on high lead levels that have been found in the water at many schools across the city.
"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 letter reads.
Although the DOE has repeatedly stressed that they have ensured the water in school buildings is still safe, the letter calls on the agency to provide all impacted schools with an alternative water supply, such as bottled water. Elected officials also insist that all students should receive free testing for lead exposure.
The letter also recommends that the DOE test for water contamination on a regular basis and that all city schools receive water filtration systems "to prevent future contamination."
"Our public schools should always be safe places for our children," Diaz said in a statement, "and the city must take the appropriate steps to make sure that the drinking water provided to our students meets acceptable safety standards.”
DOE spokeswoman Toya Holness said in an email that bringing bottled water into schools would be unnecessary, as the water in schools is still safe to drink despite elevated lead levels at some fixtures.
"New York City’s drinking water is of the highest quality, and the water delivered from the upstate reservoir system is lead free," she said. "Parents can rest assured that water in schools is safe for students and staff to drink, and there is no need for bottled water."
The DOE has been testing schools across the city for high lead levels in water samples, and so far, elevated levels have been found at schools including P.S. 41 and I.S. 158 in The Bronx, P.S. 87 and P.S. 9 on the Upper West Side, and P.S./I.S. 217 on Roosevelt Island.
While no level of lead is safe to consume, the EPA's "action level" threshold for lead in water is 15 parts per billion (ppb). Levels in New York City schools have been significantly higher — including as nearly 7,000 ppb.
A faucet at P.S. 41 tested at 442 ppb, for instance, while a faucet in P.S./I.S. 176 in Inwood tested at 6,620 ppb.
“Our public school students’ safety needs to be our first priority,” Brewer said in a statement. “The Department of Education needs to take every precaution to prevent lead exposure and guarantee the safety of the running water in our schools.”
Multiple schools had lead levels higher than Flint, Michigan during its water crisis, but the lead crisis in Flint stemmed from changing the water supply to a new source that was more acidic than the prior source, and was not properly treated before entering the city's pipes and quickly corroding them en route to people's taps.
The elevated levels in city schools likely come from old and stagnant pipes, officials have said. Issues with lead at NYC schools are generally traced back to a single fixture or piece of equipment that will be removed, fixed or designated as just a hand washing station that is not safe to drink from, according to city officials.
The DOE is almost done with citywide testing, and all problematic fixtures have been either repaired or will remain out of service until repairs are finished, according to Holness.
The city has repeatedly refused to release the results of all tests conducted in this round of lead sampling to date, saying they are waiting to do so until all tests are completed.