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Ithaca Officials Have Found Elevated Levels Of Lead In More than 60 Water Sources At Their Public Schools; EPA Has Lead Contamination Experts and Experience Dealing with Lead in Schools

Senator Said It Was Critical The EPA Lend Expertise To Collaborate with School District, Help The Community Test The Water and Identify The Source and Extent Of The Contamination

Schumer: EPA Lead Experts Will Be Made Available To Ithaca To Help Prevent More Water Contamination

U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer today announced that, following his push, the U.S. Department of Environmental Protection (EPA) will immediately have lead experts assist the City of Ithaca, where two schools were found to have high levels of lead in the water. Recently, elevated 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. As a result, water has been shut off to the two schools and students are being forced to use bottled water. Schumer said these sources of water – which are serviced by wells, rather than municipal water sources – should be immediately tested with the assistance of the EPA to see where the problem exists and how it can be mitigated. Schumer therefore urged the EPA to provide its lead experts to Ithaca, citing that the EPA could use their technical expertise to work hand-in-hand with the school district and the community of Ithaca in any way it can.

“I am pleased the EPA has heeded our call and agreed to help the Ithaca community by providing lead experts to assist the Ithaca School District. By having this technical expertise collaborating with local officials on the ground, and all hands on deck, we can better identify the source and extent of this contamination – so we can quickly develop a plan and prevent any future contamination. We must make sure Ithaca school children and the workers are safe and this situation remediated as soon as possible,” said Schumer.

Schumer explained that these two schools just outside the City of Ithaca in Tompkins County – which are serviced by privately owned wells – were found to have more than 60 samples where lead-water levels were found to be over 15 parts per billion (PPB), which is considered to be actionable by the federal EPA. Schumer said, for this reason, it is critical that the EPA use its experience and resources to expeditiously help the community test all of the water. Schumer said doing so would help the Ithaca City School District identify the extent of the contamination and track its source, whether that is contaminated water, pipes or other sources. According to the Ithaca Journal, Tompkins County Health Department Director Frank Kruppa expects new water testing to occur at the two schools before the end of next week.

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. Schumer said that is why it is particularly concerning this lead-water issue is occurring within a school system, and underscores the need for the EPA to lend its expertise wherever it can. 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. Some health organizations, like the National Center for Environmental Health in a 2012 study, argue that no safe blood-lead threshold in children has yet been identified. 

Schumer said that the EPA’s technical expertise and experience in dealing with lead contamination will better provide needed support to the school district and could better help the community understand the full scope of water contamination. Schumer said once this contamination is better understood, through testing, the subsequent remediation can commence as quickly as possible. Schumer said this peace of mind is desperately needed in the community, as protecting the health of children and employees within the Ithaca school system is of the utmost importance.

A copy of Schumer’s initial letter to the EPA appears below:


Dear Administrator McCarthy:

Following the recent discovery of unacceptably high levels of lead in the drinking water of several of its schools, I write to urge the U.S. Environmental Protect Agency (EPA) to use its technical expertise to quickly assist the community of Ithaca, New York in testing their water for lead contamination. I also urge the EPA to assist Ithaca in defining the scope and source of this lead contamination, and to help them devise a plan to eradicate it. 

In light of recent news that the community has found elevated levels of lead in more than 50 samples taken at the Caroline Elementary School and 11 samples taken at the Enfield Elementary School, it is critical that the EPA use their experience and resources to expeditiously help the community test all of the water in order to help identify the extent of the contamination and track its source. 

As you know, elevated levels of lead in drinking water can have a detrimental effect on the health of the community, and especially on children who are more vulnerable to the damaging impacts of lead poisoning. Recently, the Ithaca City School District reported that there were more than 60 samples that tested above the EPA recommended lead levels of 15 parts per billion (PPB) during their contracted water testing which was completed in August of 2015. 

This high level of contamination must be remediated as soon as possible in order to ensure the health and safety of our children, teachers and all in the school community. With the EPA’s technical expertise and experience in dealing with lead contamination – and in particular, lead contamination in school – I request that you immediately provide technical support to help the community investigate the full scope of the problem and assist with subsequent remediation as quickly as possible.    

Protecting the health of our children and school employees and ensuring the water they drink while attending school is safe is of the utmost importance.  Considering the high number of water sources that tested above the recommended levels for lead, I urge you to send resources quickly to help the community investigate and come up with solutions to solve this problem.    

Again, I thank you for your work in protecting our nation’s health and the quality of our drinking water.  Thank you for your attention to this important request.




Charles E. Schumer

United States Senator