WESTERN NEW YORK -- A total of 23 school districts in Western New York have now reported elevated levels of lead in some of their water sources, according to a review of district websites across the region.
Under a new state law, the New York State Department of Health has required districts to test their schools' water for lead this fall, with a mandate to post and submit the results by Nov. 11. 2 On Your Side first learned of Lackawanna's test results last week, but since then, more and more districts have announced results each day.
The latest district to inform parents of elevated lead levels appears to be the Akron Central School District, which sent home this letter to parents, dated Monday, Oct. 24.
In Erie County, 13 districts have submitted results so far. Three districts in Niagara County have posted them, along with seven in Cattaraugus and Chautauqua counties.
Most districts reported only a small percentage of their water sources contained lead levels above the state's recommendation of 15 parts per billion. All of them have outlined their plans to replace the contaminated sources and identify the problems in their infrastructure.
Jeffrey Rabey, the superintendent of the Depew Union-Free School District, said he's not surprised so many districts have learned of elevated lead levels in their water sources. In his district, an outside agency helped conduct the tests for lead, revealing 38 of the 284 water sources in Depew exceeded the state recommendations.
"I think we all figured we would have some levels of sources that fail," Rabey said. "Our high school is a 1950s building. Some of those fixtures are original, and we knew that we would need to mitigate those things. We're glad that this law was passed so we could move forward with this."
Depew has shut down all contaminated water sources, and the district has also posted signs near the sources as a warning for students.
The district is also in the process of changing out the fixtures and will soon conduct additional tests.
"I think in every district, every superintendent I spoke to, we're taking this very seriously," Rabey said, "and we are trying to mitigate these factors as quickly as we possibly can so that no issues remain in our schools."
Although the districts must oversee the water quality testing process, members of the Erie County and Niagara County health departments indicated they are providing support to the schools. Daniel Stapleton, the public health director in Niagara County, said it's his understanding that most districts are using outside agencies to conduct testing.
Under the new state regulations, every district was required to conduct testing for elementary schools by the end of September. Tests for the rest of the schools must be completed by the end of October (some schools, like Depew, chose to test all of their schools at once). However, districts must ultimately submit all results to the New York State Department of Health by Nov. 11.
A spokesperson for the Buffalo Public Schools indicated that the district will announce results at some point this week. The district had roughly 6,000 water sources to test.
Here's a list of the 23 school districts with reports of elevated lead levels in some water sources, with a link to the district's online information: