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BPS talks about concerns after lead was found in water fountains

The district says it hasn't done anything wrong in how it has tested school water for lead, citing direct measures from the NYS Health Department & EPA.

BUFFALO, N.Y. — Buffalo Public School leaders say they haven't done anything wrong in how they tested school water for lead.

That's after a former building engineer says the district didn't follow the right procedure and put kids in danger.

Officials with the Buffalo Public Schools District say lead poisoning was a concern in the district prior to COVID.

Yvette Gordon, the district's director of safety and health, stressed BPS has followed all requirements to test fountains ever since 2016 -- when they first started collecting samples. 

"We have done and I can say with confidence that we have done all the things we are supposed to do," Gordon said. 

That's even despite an allegation made by a former, retired employee who had said school 39, the Math Science Technology Prep School, was coming back with very high levels of lead. 

While the NYS Health Department and NYS Attorney General's Office investigate, officials with BPS say that the employee wasn't working for BPS at the time the testing was done. 

The district was supposed to test the water samples again in 2020 but that was put on hold due to COVID.

BPS started testing again in 2021 from March through June.

Officials with the district say if a fountain exceeds 15 parts per billion, it's shut down immediately and then some sort of remediation is required.

"Either we are actually taking it out of service and we're replacing it with a new lead-free fixture," Gordon said. "We are required to test bathroom faucets as well, we can put signage that says do not drink along with a picture for those who cannot read. and we are allowed to use it for handwashing only."

"All of that information had to be sent out to parents, staff, and guardians, and then it had to be posted on the website," said Valencia Howard Sease, senior chemist for BPS Building Safety and Health. 

The community advocacy group, Urban-Think Tank, now has a message for parents. 

"If you got a letter saying to go test your child, go test your child," said Samuel Radford, with the Urban-Think Tank. 

Now Buffalo Clinical Lab Testing Corp. is volunteering to partner with BPS so kids can get tested at school for free.   

"We are a mobile lab. We can bring testing so that a high volume of anyone that was exposed can be tested efficiently, confidentially, and safe," said Francesca Gidney, director & co-owner of Buffalo Clinical Lab Testing Corp. "Any site that has had exposure to children needs to be tested. There is a reluctance in testing based on transportation, parents being available to test their children, and not understanding the importance of exposure. Lead exposure is a silent killer and it cannot be undone."

BPS interim superintendent Dr. Tonja Williams says the district will consider using the testing company, but they will need time to discuss it because they just found out about it Tuesday. 

BPS didn't say what the water levels were, just what they would have done in the instance that the lead levels were too high. 

2 On Your Side could not find any lead testing data for school 39 on the NYS Health Department's website, even though other BPS schools were listed, and is still waiting for an answer from the NYS Health Department. 

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