LACKAWANNA, NY- The announcement by Lackawanna Public Schools, in a letter to parents, that higher than acceptable levels of lead had been found in their school’s water is not an issue exclusive to that district.
The proof of that should become more evident in the coming days and weeks, as more schools throughout the state begin receiving the results of mandated testing for lead in their water.
Many schools throughout the nation have found lead in their water, especially in older buildings with lead-bearing pipes and fixtures.
In most cases, it is not due to a problem with the actual water supply source…it's what occurs to the water once it enters a building, and the pipes within.
Lead buildup increases when water sits idly in pipes, and this especially problematic for schools, where water can sit stagnant over weekends and holidays.
The vast majority of the nation's schools are not legally required to test their water for lead on a regular basis.
However, every public school in New York State now is, under a law signed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo on September 6th.
"The agreement will make New York the first state in the nation to put a requirement in statute that mandates periodic testing of drinking water in schools, reporting to parents and local and state entities and provides guidance for remediation to ensure availability of clean and safe drinking water in every school," Cuomo's office said in a statement.
Private and parochial schools are exempt from the mandate, which gave school districts until September 30th to submit water samples, taken under stringent guidelines, to certified laboratories from every drinking fountain and sink in their elementary buildings.
The deadline is October 31st, to submit samples from their Middle and High Schools.
But with every drinking fountain, and every faucet of every sink, in every single school having to be tested, it's already creating a back log in getting results back from labs, according to sources.
Take for example the largest school system in Western New York-- The Buffalo Public Schools- whose spokesperson says is in the process of compiling results.
It had to sample water from some 6,000 faucets in its 59 buildings.
Now consider—there are more than 700 school districts in New York State.
So some districts may not get results for possibly up to 6 months, according to a source at the Erie County Health Department, to whom the results must be also reported.
Once they get the results, schools have ten business days to share them on their web site, and notify parents.
Lockport and Clarence are two districts where results are currently posted, with no doubt many other districts soon to follow suit if they haven’t already done so.
Under the law any sink or drinking fountain which produces water that yields lead levels above the threshold of 15 micrograms per liter, has to be taken out of service, until such time as it can be remediated.
As well, schools legally to provide an adequate amount of potable water to staff and students.
If the issue widespread enough, some schools in other parts of the country have taken to bringing in bottled water.
Because the law was passed as a budget item, the state has money available to schools to help defray some of the costs of testing, remediation, and the purchase of water if necessary.