Chuck Schumer

ALBANY, NY – In light of the water crisis in Flint, Michigan and the troubling lest testing results from the Ithaca City School District, New York Senator Charles Schumer announced on Wednesday a new bill that would provide federal aid to help schools test for lead.

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“It’s disturbing that Flint may have been just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to toxic lead in our kids’ drinking water – and the lead contamination in Ithaca, New York only underscores this concern. Right now there is a yawning gap in our lead-testing protocols: at the federal level we do not require or support lead testing in schools. This legislation solves that problem by providing grants to schools that want to test their water,”Schumer said during a conference call with reporters.

While Schumer’s bill would not mandate lead testing at schools, it would knock down the financial hurdle to the process by providing $100 million in federal grants to the more than 13,000 schools throughout New York.

The grant program would be annualized, so that schools could apply for the money year-in and year-out.

Schumer explained that aging water infrastructure could put many school children at risk of exposure to lead, which has been shown to impact brain development, including decreased IQ and cognitive function, developmental delays and behavioral problems. Very high levels of lead exposure can cause seizures, coma and even death.

“Giving schools the resources to test the quality of kids’ drinking water is the right and safe thing to do because lead poisoning is easily prevented – and because the effects of lead poisoning on our children’s bodies and brains is catastrophic and irreversible,” Schumer said. “Every drop of water that comes from a school’s faucet or fountain should be pure, safe and clean, and this legislation helps make that goal crystal clear.”

In a previous press release, Schumer provided some troubling statistics on lead poisoning across the upstate area. 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).

He also noted that most of New York’s schools had their plumbing installed before 1986, which is the year that lead pipes and solder were banned through the Safe Drinking Water Act, which made exposure that much more likely. Even after 1986, “lead free” had a somewhat loose definition — pipes needed to have less than 8 percent lead in their solder and flux. Many pipes and plumbing fixtures were allowed to be manufactured with lead levels above 8 percent before 2014.

Schumer also pointed out how, in Ithaca’s case, because the other 10 school buildings within the district (aside from Enfield and Caroline) are serviced by a public municipal water source, they were never required to perform lead testing. Schumer said this discrepancy means other schools across the state may be slipping through the cracks and therefore contain lead as well.

Last month, Schumer pushed for the Environmental Protection Agency to aid ICSD in further testing for and remediating the districts lead issue.

In a letter sent to parents on March 3, ICSD Superintendent Luvelle Brown wrote that “[EPA Staff] will support our school district with regard to sampling procedures, remediation efforts, and potential funding sources. A third-party project leader will coordinate the EPA collaboration, water systems’ evaluations, and action steps.”

(Featured photo courtesy of Senator Schumer’s website)

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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.