ITHACA, NY – New York Senator Chuck Schumer has taken notice of the problem with lead in Ithaca-area schools’ water and has asked that the Environmental Protection Agency do something about it, according to a news release from Schumer’s office on Friday.

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ICSD Superintendent Luvelle Brown announced earlier this week that water in all of the districts schools would be shut off, following the discovery that water tests performed in 2005 showed elevated levels of lead in the water in nearly every school in the district. There has been no evidence that anything was done to remediate this issue.

The district is providing bottled water for students and staff while they determine their next course of action.

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In a letter to EPA Region 2 Administrator Judith Enck, Schumer requested the agency, “use its technical expertise to quickly assist the community of Ithaca, New York in testing their water for lead contamination. I also urge the EPA to assist Ithaca in defining the scope and source of this lead contamination, and to help them devise a plan to eradicate it.”

EPA’s region 2 consists of New York and New Jersey.

Schumer has also been taking action against the broader problem of lead poisoning throughout Upstate New York. In a press release on Wednesday, Schumer urged congress to vote on legislation that would help New Yorkers remove lead-bearing agents, such as lead-based paint, from their home by providing tax credits.

The press release references a 2014 Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in which 2,335 of the 27,934 children tested throughout Upstate New York tested positive for lead poisoning with blood-lead levels above 5 micrograms per deciliter.

In the Southern Tier, 138 children – approximately 8.2 percent of those tested – tested positive for lead poisoning. The problem is even more pronounced in Central and Western New York (12.1 and 13 percent, respectively), as well as the Capital Region (10.2 percent).

While the release doesn’t focus on lead in drinking water, it notes: “Many plumbing fixtures, such as spigots and faucets, were allowed to be manufactured with lead levels above 8 percent before 2014. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), 10-20 percent of the lead that poisons children comes from tap water.”

Schumer is also calling on New York State to bring its testing standards for lead poisoning in line with the CDC’s at 5 micrograms per deciliter, according to a report from WGRZ. The state’s current testing standards  set the threshold at which a child is considered lead-poisoned and action must be taken at 10 micrograms per deciliter.

Schumer’s letter

Senator Schumer’s letter can be read in its entirety below:

Dear Administrator Enck:

Following the recent discovery of unacceptably high levels of lead in the drinking water of several of its schools, I write to urge the U.S. Environmental Protect Agency (EPA) to use its technical expertise to quickly assist the community of Ithaca, New York in testing their water for lead contamination. I also urge the EPA to assist Ithaca in defining the scope and source of this lead contamination, and to help them devise a plan to eradicate it. 

In light of recent news that the community has found elevated levels of lead in more than 50 samples taken at the Caroline Elementary School and 11 samples taken at the Enfield Elementary School, it is critical that the EPA use their experience and resources to expeditiously help the community test all of the water in order to help identify the extent of the contamination and track its source. 

As you know, elevated levels of lead in drinking water can have a detrimental effect on the health of the community, and especially on children who are more vulnerable to the damaging impacts of lead poisoning. Recently, the Ithaca City School District reported that there were more than 60 samples that tested above the EPA recommended lead levels of 15 parts per billion (PPB) during their contracted water testing which was completed in August of 2015. 

This high level of contamination must be remediated as soon as possible in order to ensure the health and safety of our children, teachers and all in the school community. With the EPA’s technical expertise and experience in dealing with lead contamination – and in particular, lead contamination in school – I request that you immediately provide technical support to help the community investigate the full scope of the problem and assist with subsequent remediation as quickly as possible.    

Protecting the health of our children and school employees and ensuring the water they drink while attending school is safe is of the utmost importance.  Considering the high number of water sources that tested above the recommended levels for lead, I urge you to send resources quickly to help the community investigate and come up with solutions to solve this problem.    

Again, I thank you for your work in protecting our nation’s health and the quality of our drinking water.  Thank you for your attention to this important request.

Sincerely,

Charles E. Schumer

United States Senator

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Michael Smith

Michael Smith reports on politics and local news for the Ithaca Voice. He can be reached via email at msmith@ithacavoice.com, by cell at (607) 229-0885, or via Google Voice at (518) 650-3639.