ITHACA, NY – As the new school year begins, the Ithaca City School District continues to make slow and methodical progress on the issue of lead contamination in the water supplies.

The district will continue consulting with engineering firm LaBella Associates, as well as having regular meetings with the Tompkins Health Department and the New York State Environmental Protection Agency to help address the issue.

In a letter released to parents late last month, ICSD Chief Administration Officer provided updates on two changes the district is making.

The first change will affect Enfield and Caroline Elementary Schools — the two schools where the lead issue was first brought to light. The district is testing the addition of a phosphate-based corrosion inhibitor to the water supply of those two schools.

The hope is that the corrosion inhibitor will coat the pipes, creating a barrier between the pipes and the water so that lead particles won’t leach into the water.

The district will track the results of the new treatment in a pilot study over the coming months. If it is shown to be effective at mitigating the lead problem, these chemicals would be added as an ongoing treatment to the water supply at those schools.

While this approach is being implemented, ICSD will continue to provide the schools with certified bottled water unconnected to the buildings’ plumbing.

In an email conversation with The Voice, Brown explained that because Enfield and Caroline Elementary Schools are on well water, rather than municipal water, ICSD is the primary authority for those schools. That is why they are taking the first action there. Brown added that Northeast and Boynton schools were recently tested, and results were expected soon.

A complaint expressed by some parents of ICSD students is that the district seems to be performing numerous tests, but not taking any forward action. In March, when multiple fixtures across 10 district schools tested positive for lead contamination, the Health Department suggested that the results may have been skewed by improper testing, and a plan was formulated to retest the buildings.

Brown says that before any further action could be taken, the Tompkins Health Department and EPA required that the district generate complete plumbing profiles for its buildings.

“This took hundreds of man hours to look at all of our buildings and the plumbing from the point of entry to exit,” Brown said in an email. “Now that we have that, we have begun the testing.”

The second update is that the district has turned on the consumptive water sources in the Q Athletic Building at Ithaca High School. This building was built recently and has newer plumbing and fixtures. After more testing, it was determined that all water fixtures in the Q Building had lead concentrations below 1 part per billion (ppb), which is under the 15 ppb “action level” set by the EPA.

The sources being turned back on include an ice machine, a sink used for filling bottles and portable water coolers, and two water fountains.

In other lead-related news, New York State recently passed legislation that will require all schools in the state to perform lead testing on their water supplies by Oct. 31 of this year. Schools that have performed testing since Jan. 2015, which includes ICSD and most other Tompkins schools, will be able to apply for waivers, and will not have to retest.

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.