ITHACA, N.Y. — With several rounds and types of tests done for lead in drinking water, the Ithaca City School District is finalizing a plan with long-term solutions.

The latest tests done in the fall and released over the last few months show that lead levels are still high in many fixtures. The district has continued to provide drinking water and will until the issue is resolved, Amanda Verba, chief operations officer said.

In September, Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed legislation requiring that all schools in New York test for lead in drinking water by Oct. 31. Along with the legislation, the state department of health issued emergency regulations for lead testing. The Ithaca City School District has been following the emergency regulations for testing.

With lead testing, anything that comes back as 15 micrograms per liter, or parts per billion, is considered “action level.” In Enfield, 26 fixtures tested 15 ppb or higher, according to the most recent results. In Caroline, 42 samples came back high. The highest sample was in Enfield in Room A17, which tested at 830 ppb. Another sample in the same room showed 600 ppb.

“There weren’t surprises to these test results,” Verba said. “Now it’s a matter of action. How will we remediate anything that’s above the action level, and how will we communicate that with the community?”

(Links to the full results are available on the district’s Water Testing Information page.)

Related: Latest test results: Lead levels still elevated in Ithaca City School District

The Ithaca City School District has been following the emergency regulations that require any fixtures that exceed the action level must prohibit the use of the outlet until a lead remediation plan is implemented and test results show lead levels are below the action level. The district is also required to notify parents of the test results within 10 business days of receiving the lab results back.

The latest test results and diagrams show the results of samples done on a first draw and after a flush. Most of the flush results come back lower than the action level. Verba said the district plans on addressing any fixture that comes in above the action level, regardless of the second draw.

Verba said the district plans on addressing any fixture that comes in above the action level, regardless of the second draw.

The Ithaca City School District has done two types of sampling. The emergency regulations, which require a 250-milliliter draw, and the Lead and Copper Rule, which requires a liter sample. Kruppa said the two types of testing show different things. The smaller sample taken after the water has sat for six to eight hours, in a water fountain for example, will show the lead exposure in that particular fixture, whereas the larger sample will better reflect exposure in the entire distribution system, Kruppa said.

“I think both sampling types are important and they both give us different pieces of information to help ensure that exposure is limited and eliminated wherever possible in the most effective manner,” Kruppa said.

Both types of sampling will continue in the future, Kruppa said.

Exposure to lead can be especially dangerous for children. Lead poisoning can severely affect mental and physical development, according to the Centers for Disease Control. The most common way people are exposed to lead is through lead paint in old homes. People can also be exposed by water, typically from older fixtures corroding.

There have been no cases of children with elevated blood lead levels due to water in Tompkins County, according to Frank Kruppa, public health director.

The Ithaca City School District and LaBella, which has been contracted to test and help address the lead issue, are in the process of creating a final report. Verba said the reports should be finalized and public within the next two months.

So far, the district has spent $14,700 for Microbac testing, $98,000 for water coolers and $146,000 for LaBella. Verba said the district has also set aside $180,000 in the 2018 budget to cover remediation.

“The budget will sustain whatever remediation and testing requirements we have upon us,” Verba said. “We designed it for that.”

Right now, Verba said the district is working to map out what fixtures need to be addressed, how they can fix them and figuring out when they will do the work. Fixes could include changing piping or removing drinking fountains to put in filtered units.

“We’re not going to change piping just to do it,” Verba said. “If a sink is coming up well below the action level, to then change piping, you might actually cause a problem. … We don’t want to change piping just for the sake of doing that. We want to really be strategic when we do that.”

Last summer, one idea that was proposed was adding a corrosion inhibitor to the water in Caroline and Enfield. However, that idea was not moved forward by the Board of Education, Verba said, because they wanted to do more research on the effects of the chemical that would be used.

Kruppa said the health department will continue to work with the Ithaca City School District as they move forward to address “what is a complicated issue.” Compared to where the district was last year in handling this issue, Kruppa said it’s the same in terms of water being provided and not using fixtures, but they are closer to a long-term solution.

“They’ve eliminated exposure by providing drinking water, which allows us the time to make sure this is done right. That’s the most important thing is you want to make sure before we move in any direction that it’s the right direction, both for the safety of children, faculty, and staff, and for the district for their long-term planning on addressing the issue,” Kruppa said.

When a plan is drawn up, Verba said they will present remediation ideas to the community and seek feedback.

Learn more about lead and testing at the Tompkins County Health Department’s lead page.

Kelsey O'Connor

Kelsey O'Connor is the managing editor for the Ithaca Voice. Questions? Story tips? Contact her at koconnor@ithacavoice.com and follow her on Twitter @bykelseyoconnor.