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New York’s Senators Say Discoveries Of Elevated Lead Levels In Schools Across New York State Are A Clear Signal That NYS Schools and Day Care Centers Need Access to Fed Grants To Test For Water Contamination 

The Recently Released Omnibus Funding Bill Allocates $20 Million For Federal Grant Program For Schools and Day Care Centers That Want to Test Drinking Water; Results Will Protect Student and Teacher Health and Help Experts Determine The Extent Of Lead Contamination in Upstate NY Schools 

Schumer & Gillibrand: Protecting Our Children’s Health Must Be Our #1 Priority

U.S. Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer and U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand today announced $20 million was included in the recently announced omnibus bill for a grant program to test for lead contamination in water in schools and child care centers Specifically, for the first time, the omnibus provides vital funds for a competitive grant program that was initially established by Schumer and Gillibrand’s legislation that was included in the Water Resource Development Act (WRDA) in 2016. The bill established a new $20 million federal grant program for schools that choose to test for lead, but the program had not yet been funded. New York schools and child care centers will be eligible to apply for this funding in order to test their drinking water for lead contamination.

“Our first priority must be keeping New York State children’s drinking water safe and the inclusion of this funding will do just that by giving schools and daycare centers the resources they need to test for lead in drinking water,” said Senator Schumer.  “To protect our kids from the permanent damage lead poisoning can cause to young minds, we must identify any and all sources of toxic lead in schools’ drinking water and get it out. This new $20 million in funding is a major victory for children across the country and across New York. It is past time we provide a steady stream of support for the schools in New York and around our country to test the quality of our kids’ drinking water. I will continue to push my colleagues on both sides of the aisle and in both chambers of Congress to come together and vote for this bill because parents deserve the peace of mind of knowing the water their kids are drinking is safe.”

“No parent should have to send their child to school worried that the drinking water is tainted with lead, yet many schools in New York and across the country have not tested their drinking water for dangerous toxins because they don’t have the funding to pay for it,” said Senator Gillibrand. “Any amount of lead in drinking water can have serious developmental and health impacts on children, and we need to ensure schools have the resources they need to test their water supply. I was proud to fight for funding for lead testing in the omnibus bill and will continue to work to ensure our children have access to safe, clean drinking water.”

In 2016 the Senators said the reports of lead contamination in the Ithaca School District, as well as more recent discoveries across every region of Upstate New York, made it clear that lead pipes could still be contaminating the water that runs from both independent and public water sources and, therefore, potentially tainting the water that our children are drinking. Specifically, higher levels of lead were found in more than 50 samples taken at the Caroline Elementary School, and in 11 samples taken at the Enfield Elementary School. The lead-water levels were found to be over 15 parts per billion (PPB), which is considered to be actionable by the federal EPA. These two Ithaca-area schools were able to detect this lead in a timely manner because they have been required to test for lead every three years; this is a requirement of districts serviced by private well water. However, because the other 10 school buildings within the district are serviced by a public municipal water source, they were never required to complete this kind of lead testing. Schumer and Gillibrand said this new said this discrepancy means other schools across the state may be slipping through the cracks and therefore contain lead-contaminated water as well.

The Senators said more resources and financial incentives need to be provided to states like New York so communities can better protect their children – and workers – when they are at school. That’s why in 2016 Schumer introduced legislation to create a new $20 million federal grant program through the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that would help school districts across New York State test their drinking water for potential lead contamination. This vital funding was included in the FY18 Omnibus budget deal.

Schumer and Gillibrand said that with more than 100,000 schools across the U.S., including more than 700 school districts – which encapsulate more than 13,000 individual schools – across the State of New York alone, it is critical educational institutions are able to test for lead if they wish to. This grant program was originally part of a 1988 bill called the Lead Contamination Control Act, but the legislative text outlining the program was struck down by the courts due to a drafting error.

Schumer and Gillibrand said that despite successful work over the past decade to reduce the number of children with blood-lead levels of at least 10 micrograms per deciliter across Upstate NY, there is still a large number of children now known to have blood-lead levels between 5-9 micrograms per deciliter. Since 2012, the CDC has used a reference level of 5 micrograms per deciliter to identify children who have blood-lead levels that are much higher than most other children and are considered dangerous. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), lead is much more harmful to children than adults because it can affect children’s developing nerves and brains. According to the National Center for Healthy Housing, childhood exposure to lead has lifelong consequences, including decreased IQ and cognitive function, developmental delays and behavioral problems. Very high levels of lead exposure can cause seizures, coma and even death.

The EPA and CDC agree that there is no known safe level of lead in a child’s blood. For this reason, the Senators agreed it is disturbing that many schools across Upstate NY could contain lead pipes because they were built before 1986 when these particular pipes were banned. In addition, at the time, “lead free” was defined as having solder and flux with no more than 8 percent lead in pipes. Many pipes and plumbing fixtures, such as spigots and faucets, were allowed to be manufactured with lead levels above 8 percent before 2014. According to the EPA, 10-20 percent of the lead that poisons children comes from tap water.