Schumer Rallies More Support For Lead Testing Bill; Bill Would Fund More Lead Tests Across NYS Schools; NYC Already Testing As It Should, But Needs and Deserves Federal Support 

Schumer’s Bill Would Authorize $20 Million In Federal Grants For Schools That Want To Test Drinking Water; Legislation Will Soon Be Up For Vote on Senate Floor  

Schumer: Lead & Kids Should Never Mix; More Testing Means More Protection

U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer today revealed that his legislation, which would help school districts across New York State follow New York City’s lead in regularly testing their drinking water for potential lead contamination, is in the final stretch in Congress and was included in the must-pass Water Resource Development Act (WRDA) that recently passed out of committee. Schumer’s bill would establish a new $20 million federal grant program for schools that choose to test for lead. Schumer explained that toxic lead-based pipes were not banned until 1986 and, as a result, schools whose water is supplied by pipes made before 1986 could contain lead. Schumer said that he will rally more support in Congress for this bill. Schumer said that he is pushing Congress to bring this important bill to the floor for a vote as soon as possible. Schumer also said that he vows to fight for more funding to reduce and eliminate sources of lead. 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. 

Schumer today stood at P.S. 4 Maurice Wollin in Arden Heights alongside Deputy Chancellor Elizabeth Rose. The school was initially tested for lead on March 22, 2016. There were 19 elevated samples out of 148 samples tested. According to city officials, a flushing protocol was implemented at the school and plumbing and fixtures that tested positive were removed and replaced. As of April 7th and April 8th, the water was retested and there were no elevated samples of lead.

“Lead poisoning can easily be prevented, but step one is to test, and right now there is an appalling gap in our lead testing protocols that omits our schools. This bill fixes that and that’s why the Senate should bring it to the floor for a vote ASAP,” said Schumer. “Many schools do routine lead testing on their own and, in fact, New York City has a very good and rigorous lead testing protocol for our public water system, and I strongly encourage them to continue. This bill will make it easier for more schools—like New York City-- to test for lead. Providing more options and support to test the quality of kids’ drinking water is the right and safe thing to do. My legislation helps make that goal crystal clear.”

Schumer continued, "The bottom line is that my bill prods districts that don't test to test, and rewards places, like New York City, that do. It is designed to prevent any unfunded mandates as we do all we can to protect our children's vulnerable and developing brains from the permanent damage lead exposure can cause."

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 that other schools throughout the State have been found with elevated levels of lead. For instance, in Ithaca 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. 

Earlier this year, Schumer announced he would be introducing new legislation aimed at providing grants to schools to test their water for lead contamination. Schumer said more resources and financial incentives must be provided to states like New York so communities can better protect their children – and workers – when they are at school. Specifically, Schumer said this legislation will 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. Schumer said that while he pushed for $100 million– and was included in his original proposal – this initial $20 million is a critical first step to get the program up and running. He vowed to fight for more funding on the federal level to further address this lead crisis. 

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. Schumer explained that New York City already does a good job at testing for lead, however, this grant funding will help alleviate those costs and therefore alleviate the burden on local tax payers.

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 an annual grant program would 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 would 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.


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