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Lead Testing Drinking Water At Schools And Daycare Centers Is Essential Because The Youngest Are the Most Vulnerable to Lead’s Pernicious and Permanent Damages; Early Poisoning In Children Can Go Unnoticed Until Damage Is Irreversible 

New Schumer Bill Will Provide Federal Grants For Daycare Centers & NYS Schools That Want to Test Drinking Water; Results Will Protect Students, Teachers, & Caregivers’ Health While Arming Experts With Key Info Needed To Address Potential Danger 

Schumer: Every Drop Of Water Our Kids Sip Must Be Safe

Standing at Clinton Elementary School in Dutchess County, U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer today announced new legislation that would help daycare centers and schools across New York State test their drinking water for potential lead contamination. Schumer’s bill would establish a new federal grant program for daycare centers and 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, any building whose water is supplied by pipes made before that time could contain lead. Schumer said our first priority should be keeping New York State children’s drinking water safe.

“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, more importantly, support lead testing in the areas where our youngest and most vulnerable spend much of their time – at schools and daycare centers. This legislation solves that problem by providing grants to schools and other child care centers that want to test their water,” said Senator Schumer. “Giving these institutions 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 recent lead contamination of the Ithaca School District 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 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 – including those in Dutchess County – may be slipping through the cracks and therefore contain lead as well. During his visit to Dutchess County, Schumer explained that all Poughkeepsie City Schools are regularly tested and up to date on all New York State Regulations for Lead Poisoning and Prevention Control. Clinton Elementary School, where he stood today, has been regularly tested, and is therefore an example of how other schools could be more diligent in their testing if they had the financial help to test for lead. Regardless of regularly testing, Schumer said the school district could still greatly benefit from this new bill, which would help invest in more testing to ensure the safety of their students, staff, and community, so they could spend financial resources elsewhere, on things like books and school supplies.

Given these rise in lead contamination discoveries, Schumer announced he will introduce legislation to provide grants to schools, as well as daycare centers, 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 child care or 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 daycare centers and 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 or daycare center 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 was joined by Schumer will be joined by Mayor for the City of Poughkeepsie, Rob Rolison, and Superintendent of the Poughkeepsie City School District, Nicole Williams.

“Poughkeepsie City School District supports Senator Schumer in his call for funding to test drinking water in schools for the presence of lead. With lead issues in drinking water across the country and the detrimental impact lead has on our most vulnerable populations, it is more apparent than ever that we must have access to more resources to protect our students, staff members, and our community. Being exposed to lead threatens the very environment we stand for, an environment that promotes excellence in teaching and learning. We owe it to our students, faculty, and families to ensure that our schools are safe and free of dangerous poisons such as lead. We thank Senator Schumer for his support and advocacy on our behalf, and we welcome the expertise of federal health officials to our area to work collaboratively with the City of Poughkeepsie and our school District to proactively address this issue,” said Dr. Nicole Williams, Superintendent of the Poughkeepsie City School District.

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 New York State, 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 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. Just recently, 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.

Schumer has long fought to ensure the persistent issue of lead poisoning is address in New York State. This year, Schumer also introduced new legislation alongside Senator Whitehouse [D-RI] that would directly address the issue of lead in homes, as a result of lead-based paint and pipes in residential areas. Paint with more than .06 percent lead was banned for residential use in 1978 and countless homes built before then contain toxic lead-based paint. According to the New York State Department of Health’s data in 2000, 42.9 percent of the housing stock in New York State was built before 1950, when lead-based paint was widely used. According to the Dutchess County Department of Health, 70 percent of housing in the City of Poughkeepsie was built before 1970 and, therefore the potential for lead exposure in this area is very high. In addition, many older homes contain lead plumbing as well. Many plumbing fixtures, such as spigots and faucets, were allowed to be manufactured with lead levels above 8 percent before 2014.

Schumer’s bill – aimed at getting lead out of residential homes – would do the following:

  • Would cover up to 50 percent of the costs of removing lead in homes;
    • This credit would be up to $3,000 for getting rid of lead pipes, lead paint and replacing painted surfaces, windows or fixtures contaminated with lead paint;
    • An additional credit $1,000 in tax credits would be available for specialized cleaning, monitoring and resident education about lead paint contamination.
    • This tax credit would be fully refundable and amendable against prior year returns, so the value can be claimed quickly;
    • The tax credit would be available to households earning up to $110,000 per year.

Finally, Schumer has also been pushing federal appropriators to increase funding for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) Lead Hazard Control & Healthy Home grant program, which has been consistently shortchanged over the last several years. The Lead Hazard Control & Healthy Home grant program received its highest level of funding in 2003, at $176 million, but it has seen significant declines ever since. Since FY 2014, the program has only received $110 million and the President’s Proposed FY17 Budget released earlier this month again calls for it to be funded at only the $110 million level. Schumer said beginning this year, it is critical to reverse this declining funding trend and move back to the program’s higher historic funding levels.