ITHACA, NY – The results of more lead testing in Ithaca district schools have turned up positive results. Meanwhile, the school district and Tompkins Health Department are calling some previous results into question.

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On Thursday, ICSD posted the results of lead testing performed on 10 different schools in the district: Northeast Elementary, Fall Creek Elementary, DeWitt Middle School, South Hill, Lehman Alternative, Ithaca High School, Belle Sherman and its annex, Beverly J. Martin Elementary, Boynton Middle School and Cayuga Heights.

Five water samples were taken from each school, except for Belle Sherman which had five samples from its annex and three from the school.

28 samples out of the 53 tested returned results above the 15 parts per billion (ppb) action level recommended by the Environmental Protection Agency. 11 of those results were over 100 ppb, with some being 400 ppb or higher.

Under EPA policy, action is required if the 90th percentile of the samples tested exceed the 15 ppb action level. This was the case for every school on the list.

Some samples also tested positive for copper contamination, though only in Boynton and South Hill did the 90th percentile value exceed the action level.

Improper testing?

However, the Tompkins County Health Department and, by extension, the school district, are questioning the validity of some previous testing results from Caroline school — which had one faucet that report toxic waste levels of lead contamination.

A letter from Elizabeth Cameron, Director of Environment Health, expresses concern over the way the testing was handled.

In her letter, Cameron notes that the testers shut off the water system in Caroline the night before the test. She calls this is a “significant departure” from the usual testing procedures. She also notes that there was a leak in the Caroline water system that may have depressurized the system.

The same testing procedures were also used in Enfield.

“Both shutting off the water system and the reported depressurizing of the Caroline Elementary School water system may have created disruptive, turbulent or scouring conditions in the water pipes, potentially releasing lead-containing particles into the distribution system,” Cameron said.

Cameron says that after consulting with the New York State Department of Health, the Tompkins Health Department is concerned that the results “may not be representative of actual conditions.”

In a seperate letter, ICSD Superintendent Dr. Luvelle Brown echoed that idea, adding, “The Tompkins County Health Department has advised that we retest at Caroline and Enfield elementary the week of March 7. A plan is being developed to retest all other buildings.”

“Along with proper testing practices, investigation must be conducted to determine whether any remediation efforts are needed to produce compliant and safe water systems throughout our school district,” writes Brown.

Brown also wrote that the district has been in contact with EPA officials. Senator Chuck Schumer announced on Thursday that the EPA had agreed to aid ICSD with the lead issue.

(featured photo: Alex from Flickr)

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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, by cell at (607) 229-0885, or via Google Voice at (518) 650-3639.