CAROLINE, N.Y. — At a public meeting Wednesday night at Caroline Elementary School, parents were furious about what they said was the Ithaca City School District’s lack of action regarding drinking water that tested positive for high levels of lead.
“When my daughter owes 25 cents to the Ithaca City School District, I get a phone call about the quarter,” said Melissa Hoffman, who said her 6-year-old daughter has been drinking water from the fountain in Room 27, which tested at 120 parts per billion in August. Re-testing in January showed that the water from the drinking fountain was at 21 ppb.
The Tompkins County Health Department has said that the “action level” is 15 ppb.
The ICSD did not inform parents about the high lead levels until this month.
Hoffman said that instead of calling the parents of the 16 children in the class, the school sent home a letter on the backside of another flyer that her daughter had been exposed to lea through the classroom’s drinking fountain.
Chief Administration Officer David Brown, who was one representative who spoke on behalf of the district, said nearly the same statement again and again throughout the night:
“We’re reviewing our processes and procedures.”
Here are three things we learned from last night’s meeting:
Why didn’t the school inform parents about the high lead levels sooner?
The school district got results about the high lead levels in the drinking water in September. The tests were done in August.
Brown said that when school officials received the results, they told the Tompkins County Health Department that they assumed the levels were the result of not flushing the water before test samples were collected.
It’s recommended that water is flushed for one to two minutes, six hours before test samples are collected. That did not happen to all tested sources in August, officials said.
Brown said the health department did not reply to the school’s correspondence, so the district assumed there was no further action required from them until the water was retested.
He said not following up with the health department and not informing parents about the tests was a mistake. He apologized on behalf of the district.
What is happening now as a result of the test levels?
The district is testing every water source at Caroline and Enfield elementary schools — about 155 samples. The total cost of the tests — including labor, lab work, “rush orders” — will be $10,000 to $15,000.
Faucets and pipes have been replaced along with the bubbler head (drinking spout) to use more up-to-date materials.
The test results, officials said, should be available next week.
“We should have reported. We should have retested (sooner),” Brown said.
What is the district doing next?
Brown said the district will test lead levels at all schools in the coming weeks.
In the mean time, Frank Kruppa, public health director at the Tompkins County Health Department, said officials are not recommending that parents test their children for high lead levels.
He said people are welcome to contact the health department, though, if they do not have a primary care provider and are concerned for their children’s well-being.
Brown said the district is analyzing where the flaw in their procedures happened so modifications can be made to prevent faulty test results, keep children safe and keep parents informed.
Caroline parents are not forgiving or forgetting
Caroline parents were furious about what they said was the lack of transparency regarding the lead levels in water.
“Why did you make the choice not to shut the fountain off in September?” Hoffman asked.
Multiple parents asked why the district did not retest the water sooner and questioned whether the district has enough data to recommend that parents not test children for lead poisoning.
“Lead is highly insoluble in water and yet we have a lot of it in this water, which means something very wrong is going on in our water system here on this campus,” said Nicole Pence, whose 7-year-old attends second grade at Caroline Elementary School. “Do you think that we trust you? Do you think that we would go with that recommendation?”
Conversation often got heated during the Q&A. The video below shows some of the parents’ concerns. It’s been edited for length an clarity.