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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 Says It Is Critical That 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 To EPA: Send Inspectors and Lead Experts to Ithaca To Prevent More Water Contamination

U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer today called on the U.S. Department of Environmental Protection (EPA) to immediately send inspectors to 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 explained that these sources of water – which are serviced by wells, rather than municipal water sources – should be immediately tested by the EPA to see where the problem exists and how it can be mitigated. In addition, Schumer is urging the EPA to use its technical expertise to work hand-in-hand with the school district and the community of Ithaca in any way it can, including testing the water as a starting point, and then providing a path to remediation.


“Lead poisoning is an irreversible, preventable tragedy that robs many families and children of their future. We need to make sure the parents of the children who attend Caroline and Enfield Elementary Schools in Ithaca never have to understand that horror. That is why I am calling on the federal EPA to step up to the plate and get all hands on deck to help the community test this water, identify the source and extent of the contamination, and move forward with ways to remediate this situation. We need the EPA inspectors and lead experts here, on the ground, as soon as possible to work with the school district to develop a plan and prevent any future contamination,” said Schumer.

“The Ithaca City School District is committed to working diligently to ensure the safety of our students and staff. We thank Senator Schumer for his support and advocacy on our behalf, and we welcome federal health expertise to the area to work collaboratively with the school district to remedy this situation,” said Dr. Luvelle Brown, Superintendent of Schools.

Schumer explained that these two schools in the City of Ithaca – 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 City of Ithaca identify the extent of the contamination and track its source, whether that is contaminated water, pipes or other sources.

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 could 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 letter to the EPA appears below:

Dear Administrator Enck:

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