New York State Assembly seeks to pass bill to reform lead testing in schools

Posted at 8:25 PM, Jun 16, 2016
and last updated 2016-06-16 17:28:27-04

NEW YORK — New York State senate passed a measure Thursday that protects children from potential lead poisoning found in the water at school buildings.

With the widespread contamination in Flint, Michigan, and communities across the tri-state area also affected, lead poisoning in children has become an all too frequent topic of discussion.

There have been consistently high levels of lead found in some counties in the past few months.

The bill aims to ensure that schools will conduct periodic tap water testing for lead so they have information about the quality of the students’ drinking water.

Some schools in the state already test for lead, but most do not. The bill would create a standard testing protocol, according to the New York Senate office. School districts and Boards of Cooperative Educational Services (BOCES) would be required to undergo periodic tap testing under a new schedule set by the New York state Department of Health.

Buildings that existed after 2014 will be exempt from the testing requirement.

Schools that test negative for lead will receive waivers. The ones with water that contain unacceptable amounts of lead will be eligible for financial assistance to help with the costs of testing and remediation, the Senate office said in a press release.

“There’s not a more important place to start this overall and ongoing effort to better address lead contamination than within our schools to protect children,” Senator Tom O’Mara, the bill’s sponsor, said.

“The increasing incidents of lead contamination in school drinking water systems demand that we take short- and long-term actions to strengthen testing, reporting and remediation requirements.”

According to State Senator Carl Marcellino’s webpage, until now, public schools in the state were only required to test the conditions of their building once every five years to identify hazards such as potential lead contamination. There was also no comprehensive plan for testing all water in schools and eliminating contaminants that are found, and no way to make the test results widely available to residents.

In March, PIX11 News reported that there was widespread lead poisoning in 30 out of 67 Newark schools and that Newark officials knew for as long as four years about the dangerously high levels of lead in the drinking water.

A group of parents filed a lawsuit against New Jersey’s largest school district in Newark in May. Their children had tested positive for elevated levels of lead.

In the same month, water fountains at six Long Island schools were shut down after they also tested positive for high levels of lead.

These schools, in the Northport-East Northport School district, had water stations that had levels of lead above the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) guidelines.

Recently U.S. Attorney for the southern district of New York Preet Bharara announced his plan to conduct a sweeping investigation of lead contamination in New York City public housing and homeless shelters, as reported by the New York Times.

NYCHA has been struggling with deteriorating conditions for decades and has been under the supervision to address mold among the 178,000 apartments the agency manages.

Lead harms the growth of young children, along with their behavior and their ability to learn, according to the state Department of Health. Even low levels of lead can lead to problems such as lower IQ, hyperactivity, slowed growth, hearing problems and anemia, according to the EPA. Children six years old and younger are at the highest risk for the negative effects of lead.