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Schumer Said Discoveries Of Elevated Lead Levels In Schools Across New York State Over The Past Year Were A Clear Signal That All NYS Schools and Day Care Centers Need Long-Term Access to Fed Grants To Test For Water Contamination

Schumer-Introduced Bill Authorizes $20 Million Over Next 5 Years – For Total $100M – in Federal Grants 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 NY Schools

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

U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer today announced that, following his push, the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives have passed his legislation, which will help school districts across New York State, including on Staten Island, test their drinking water for potential lead contamination. Schumer’s legislation was included in the Water Resource Development Act (WRDA) and is now headed to the President’s desk for final signature. Schumer said this bill would establish a new $20 million federal grant program for schools that choose to test for lead beyond this school year. This funding is authorized through 2021, for a total of $100 million in federal grants. Senator Schumer said authorizing this $20 million over the next 5 years is the first step to implementing this critical legislation, and vowed to fight for the future appropriation of funding for this specific program.

Schumer said New York City, which has a first-class drinking water system, is a leader in testing and remediation that needs and deserves federal support in the effort to eliminate all trace of lead from drinking water. 

“Our first priority must be keeping New York State children’s drinking water safe when they are at school and day care, and this legislation will do just that,” said Senator Schumer.

Schumer continued, “We can no longer sit back and watch as far too many New York kids live with hazardous lead in their water. That’s exactly why I introduced this legislation and fought tooth and nail to make the Lead Testing in School and Child Care Drinking Water Act a reality. The passage of this bill is a major victory for children across New York. It is high-time we provided a steady stream of support for the schools in New York and around our country to test the quality of our kids’ drinking water – this $100 million federal investment will do just that.”

“I’m very pleased that the Lead Testing in School and Child Care Drinking Water Act passed the Senate today,” said Senator Kirsten Gillibrand. “No New Yorker should have to send their child to school or daycare worried that the drinking water is tainted with lead. This bill would help protect the health of the youngest New Yorkers, and I look forward to seeing it signed into law by the President.”

On Staten Island, elevated lead levels at 35 schools were discovered after New York City conducted tests. Thirteen of the 35 schools had elevated lead levels on the second draw. Protocols were implemented for the NYC school buildings found to have elevated levels of lead. The protocol, approved by DOHMH and based on EPA guidance, involved a combination of weekly flushing, equipment replacement and more. The schools’ flowing water is now safe, according to city officials. Schools that were found to have elevated levels will be tested 6 months-1 year after lead is found and every two years after that. Schools without elevated levels will be retested every five years. The City is also offering free guidance and testing to private schools. 

Schumer explained that New York City’s water is of the highest quality and, according to City officials, its water is tested over 500,000 times each year at various points throughout the system. According to City officials, NYCDOE works with City agencies, including the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH) and the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), to ensure students have access to safe drinking water in schools. According to the City, of the 88,956 samples taken since 2002, only 1.13% were found to have elevated levels that exceeded EPA guidelines on the first draw (the first water out of the tap, which would include stagnant water); just 0.09% of samples were positive second draw samples.  All of those buildings have been on the DOHMH protocol since, protecting students and faculty.

Schumer said the reports of lead contamination in the Ithaca School District this past summer, as well as more recent discoveries in 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, were never required to complete this kind of lead testing. Schumer said this discrepancy means other schools across the state may be slipping through the cracks and therefore contain lead as well.

Schumer 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 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 funding will be provided each year through 2021, totaling $100 million for schools to test their water for unsafe lead levels.

Schumer 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 said this new annual grant program will encourage schools to apply for federal funding year-in and year-out: if a school district did not apply for or receive funding to test for lead in that particular year, they could apply the following year. Schumer said this legislation will now allow the federal government do more for schools that want to test for lead contamination and ensure the water that children drink in New York State schools is safe for consumption.

Schumer 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 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.

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. For this reason, Schumer said it is disturbing that many schools across 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 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), 10-20 percent of the lead that poisons children comes from tap water.

Schumer said the severity of this situation has become more and more evident in New York as of late, particularly with the recent discovery of elevated levels of lead in the Ithaca City School district. Following the discovery, Schumer pushed the EPA to have lead experts assist the City of Ithaca. Following his push, the EPA announced that it would provide assistance to the Ithaca City School District, in order to help it determine the extent of the problem and how these high levels of lead can be mitigated.