BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Nearly two dozen school districts in Western New York have found high levels of lead in some of their water sources in recent weeks, as 2 On Your Side has reported.
Every public school in New York State is being required to test water from every sink faucet and drinking fountain, under a law signed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo on September 6th.
Private and parochial schools are exempt from the mandate
Tuesday, the Buffalo Public Schools, the area's largest district, released some of the results of their testing.
"We have 6,700 outlets we have sampled across 63 sites, including 59 schools , central registration, and three athletic fields," said Superintendent of Schools Kriner Cash.
School officials said they have thusfar received lab results from about a third of the outlets tested and they expect the rest to arrive in the coming days and weeks.
The results received so far show that out of 2,300 outlets in 18 buildings, only 68 of them had lead levels above the threshold of concern, which is 15 parts per billion. 63 of those samples were from sinks, and five were drinking fountains.
While it's true that lead levels are often higher in older buildings with lead-bearing pipes and fixtures....and while it's true Buffalo has plenty of older schools, the number of hits for lead was not as high as one might presume, due largely to many schools having undergone extensive renovations in recent years.
"We renovated 48 buildings top to bottom under the joint schools construction board project, plus in 2004 we did voluntary testing of every single water fountain in the district and re mediated at that time.," said BPS Director of facilities Paul McDonnell.
During Tuesday afternoon's news conference, District officials would not name all the specific schools which had some lead issues, saying they want to notify the parents of students in those schools first.
They expect to begin doing so on Wednesday.
However, they did share that the test results thus far were from 15 elementary schools, 2 high schools, and an administration building....with results from 50 other facilities still pending.
It may be a while before all results are obtained, due to a deluge of samples being sent by the more than 700 school districts across New York as mandated by the state, which also required all samples to be submitted to certified laboratories by no later than October 31.
"We're sort of at the mercy of the testing labs which are being overrun," said Yvette Gordon, BPD Director of Safety and Health.
Gordon also confirmed the highest lead level detected thus far district wide, was in a seldom used drinking fountain on the third floor of the Olmsted at Kensington School, PS 156 on Suffolk Street, where test results detected lead levels of 1,300 parts per billion, or about 15 times higher as what the state has determined to be an actionable level.
By law, any sink or drinking fountain which produces water that yields lead levels above the threshold has to be taken out of service until it is fixed. And that's what the plan is for the Buffalo schools.
District officials peg the cost of testing and remediation at about $300,000. The state has money available to schools to help defray some of those costs.