Lead Water Pipes Poisoning New York Schools?


One of the biggest news stories in the past year has been the water debacle in Flint, Michigan. In 2014, Michigan governor Rick Snyder switched the water source for the city of Flint from the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department to the Flint River. While the Detroit water source had been treated with corrosion inhibitors, Flint River had not. That allowed for the old lead water pipe to corrode, leaching lead into the water source.

What resulted was eventually the biggest health crisis in America, once the story hit mainstream media. Children and adults alike were poisoned, and water from the tap came out brown. While the logical step would be to buy water filters, the problem is that filters do not remove lead at these levels. That has left residents using bottled water for everything from cooking to showering. As of now, no real solution has been put in place.

What the Flint River Crisis has done, however, is expose the risk of lead water pipes all over the country. About 10 million homes in America receive water that passes through lead pipes at one point or another. That includes homes in New York, where the number of lead pipes simply isn’t known. There are too many water pipes all over the city to give any accurate number of dangerous ones. Unfortunately, many of those pipes also deliver water to schools across the state, and that has become a hot issue in recent months.

The Last Lead Test Was When?!

According to a recent study by WNYC, the New York branch of NPR, more than 1,000 public schools across the city haven’t tested their water for lead in at least a decade. That comes out to about two thirds of all schools in The Big Apple. For many of those that had not tested their water, their reasoning was sound: They were built after the ban on lead plumbing. However, if they are connected to lead pipes somewhere along the way to the water source, it could spell disaster.

The Environmental Protection Agency does not require water testing for most public schools. However, most experts agree that this should no longer be an excuse. A city as old as New York would be riddled with lead piping in the city plumbing system, and they are only going to corrode more and more over time. With the news out of Flint, it seems logical — and moral — to test school water at least annually. After all, even schools that seemed fine a decade ago could have developed new problems since then. New York officials agreed — sort of. They decided to test water every five years. But, as many schools haven’t been tested since 2002, this is a great step forward.

New Jersey Taking the Lead

Across state lines, New Jersey is taking drastic steps to better the quality of their drinking water. U.S. Senator Cory Booker of Newark co-introduced the Transparent Environment in School Testing (TEST) for Lead Act. This would require any school district receiving federal  clean water funds to test their water. He spearheaded this campaign after elevated lead levels were reported in the schools of his hometown. In all, 30 school buildings in the district were at or above the EPA’s “action level” for lead. At that level, additional monitoring, testing and remediation is required. To counteract this problem, the school district is using bottled water for everything and has shut off drinking water fountains.

Luckily, the problem has not spread to the rest of the community. Rather, it is just bad piping from when the schools were built. As such, students can still shower and get ready at home. They are only confined to drinking bottled water at school. Organizations across the state have come to Newark’s aid, sending cases of bottled water for their use. While some parents have voiced disapproval for how the situation has been handled, most agree that the school district’s actions to remedy the situation have been more than adequate.

Measures Taken by New York

When concern over their children’s safety erupted, parents were given a letter from the New York Education Department ensuring that drinking water is “extraordinarily safe.” All city-owned buildings, including schools, had all known lead pipes replaced between 2008 and 2010. In addition, only about 1 percent of all samples taken in 2002 — the last mass testing — showed elevated levels of lead, according to EPA standards. Any equipment, like faucets or water fountains, that showed signs of elevated lead were removed, and systems were flushed weekly.

However, some schools outside of the New York City district still showed signs of risk. For instance, the Ithaca school system found elevated lead levels of lead and twitched to bottled water while the issue was being fixed. Across the nation, from Los Angeles to Baltimore, entire districts have shut down and ripped out fixtures trying to rid their schools of elevated lead levels. But, with this toxic plumbing snaking its way under major cities across America, the fight against lead is far from over.

Symptoms of Lead Poisoning

So why does it matter if lead seeps into the water supply? As it turns out, the metal humans have used for centuries to carry water is a very strong poison, and it is especially harmful to children. While lead does not act quickly like other poisons, it will build up in the system and slowly take its toll. And the younger the child, the less that needs to build up before you notice these symptoms:

  • Aggression or irritability
  • Anemia
  • Headaches
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Low appetite
  • In young children, a regression in developmental skills
  • Cramping or abdominal pain (which could be a sign of a high dose of lead)
  • Reduced sensations

After a while, you may notice these problems in your child:

  • Academic, attention and behavioral problems
  • Reduced IQ
  • Kidney damage
  • Slowed body growth
  • Hearing problems

The New York City Department of Education has released a water safety website so you can investigate the last time your child’s school was tested for lead. If you believe your child is experiencing lead poisoning, do not wait. Contact a medical professional immediately and follow all instructions they give you. If your child does have lead poisoning as a result of faulty water lines at their school, you also have legal options. An attorney who specializes in toxic tort will be able to provide more information.

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