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Schumer Says Recent Discoveries Of Elevated Levels Of Lead In More Than 60 Water Sources In Ithaca Schools, And Others Around New York State, Is A Clear Signal That All NYS Schools Need Access to Fed Grants To Test For Water Contamination

New Schumer Bill Will Provide Federal Grants For NYS Schools 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: Protecting Our Children’s Health Must Be Our #1 Priority

During a conference call with reporters, U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer today announced new legislation that will help school districts across New York State test their drinking water for potential lead contamination. Schumer’s bill would establish a new federal grant program for schools that choose to test for lead. Schumer pointed to the recently revealed high levels of lead found in more than 60 samples taken at two Ithaca schools, as evidence that lead is a significant problem in New York. 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 our first priority should be keeping New York State children’s drinking water safe when they are at school.

“It’s disturbing that Flint may have been just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to toxic lead in our kids’ drinking water – and the lead contamination in Ithaca, New York only underscores this concern. Right now there is a yawning gap in our lead-testing protocols: at the federal level we do not require or support lead testing in schools. This legislation solves that problem by providing grants to schools that want to test their water,” said Senator Schumer. “In fact, giving schools the resources to test the quality of kids’ drinking water is the right and safe thing to do because lead poisoning is easily prevented – and because the effects of lead poisoning on our children’s bodies and brains is catastrophic and irreversible. Every drop of water that comes from a school’s faucet or fountain should be pure, safe and clean, and this legislation helps make that goal crystal clear.”

Schumer said the Ithaca situation in Upstate New York has 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 New York State schoolchildren 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.

As a result, Schumer announced he will introduce legislation to provide 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’s legislation will create a new $100 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 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 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 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.

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 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 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 Upstate 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. Just last week, the EPA announced that, following Schumer’s push, 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.