ITHACA, NY – On Thursday, the Ithaca City School District (ICSD) and Tompkins County Health Department (TCHD) released the latest results from their lead testing efforts. Here is a summary of the key takeaways from the Caroline report.

[do_widget id= text-55 ]

When the issue of lead in school water first came to light early in February following tests in January, the problem in Caroline seemed less severe than it was in Enfield.

Then the next set of test results from tests, performed in early in February and revealed later that month, indicated that over half of the school’s fixtures were over the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) action level of 15 parts per billion (ppb) of lead, including one that tested at the “toxic waste level” of 5,000 ppb.

The Tompkins Health Department, however, had concerns about the testing procedure. They explained that the water system had become depressurized the night before the tests, which they believed might have caused inflated lead test results by creating “disruptive, turbulent or scouring conditions in the water pipes, potentially releasing lead containing particles into the distribution system.”

The results

The newest tests, performed by the TCHD on Mar. 4 and ICSD on Mar. 11 seem to partially bear out that theory. Some of the most serious exceedances, such as a classroom sink that tested at 2200 ppb, a music room sink that tested at 940 ppb and several others that tested above 100 ppb are all showing much lower results.

While the highest test result from the newest tests is 30.6 pbb — an order of magnitude lower than some of the February tests — that number is still double the action level. For first draw samples, Caroline is still not in compliance with EPA guidelines.

TCHD’s and ICSD’s March tests both included “first draw” and “flushed” samples. First draw samples are taken after the fixture has been sitting for several hours, while the flushed sample is drawn after the water has been run for a time, which can flush out some of the lead concentrate.

TCHD sampled 12 locations on Mar. 4. Seven of them tested above the action level on the first draw, while all 12 flushed samples were below the action level. Some of the fixtures were observed leaking prior to or during the sampling, so those results may not accurately represent a true first draw sample.

ICSD sampled 10 locations on Mar. 11. All of the fixtures tested had been tested by TCHD the week prior. Four first draw samples were above the action level, while one flushed sample was above the action level.

According to the report, there was debris noted either on the coffee filter during the pre-sampling flushing, in the sample itself or on the aerator for all locations sampled on Mar. 4 with the exception of the Room 49 drinking fountain and the Boiler Room sink. Debris was noted on all aerators at sink faucets.

The table below shows the results from all the recent tests, starting with the August 2015 tests that first revealed the issue:

(Source: Tompkins County Health Department report.)


The report concluded that due to the vastly lower results in both March tests, the February test results did not accurately represent standard conditions in Caroline Elementary School. The tests were purposed performed on some of the highest-testing fixtures in order to establish this difference.

While the newest tests did focus on the worst offenders, it’s worth noting that only 12 out of the over 50 fixtures in Caroline that had tested above the action level were retested.

Here is a summary of the reports other conclusions:

  • the TCHD believes that flushing is generally effective in reducing lead concentrations below the action level, as such they are recommending that fixtures be used under supervision for non-consumptive purposes such as hand-washing, to prevent additional buildup
  • changing out aerators — which was done between the TCHD and ICSD tests — seems to have no substantial effect
  • changing out two fixtures, a sink in Room 27 and a drinking fountain in Room 53, did not improve test results
  • the sample from room 27 had a higher flushed result than first draw result, which may indicate a plumbing problem
  • samples taken from the oldest part of the school, built in 1958, have all been consistently below action level in tests since 2006, implying that the issue might not be as straightforward as simple age of plumbing
  • the TCHD concludes that the well that sources Caroline’s water is likely not contributing to the problem

Moving forward, the district and TCHD will continue to examine the lead issue. Earlier in the week, ICSD approved a contract with LaBella Associates for additional testing and possible remediation solutions. LaBella will be working with the district to examine the plumbing in more detail and pinpoint any trouble areas before additional tests or changes can be implemented.

Meanwhile, the ICSD will continue to provide certified bottled water while the investigation continues. TCHD will be coordinating with ICSD, NYSDOH and EPA on the investigation at all schools in the District.

[do_widget id= text-61 ]

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.