After various Brooklyn public schools were tested for lead levels in their water facilities back in 2016, re-tests during the 2018-2019 school year revealed new cases of elevated lead levels, despite programs that were meant to eliminate lead from schools years ago. In many instances, these updated reports came shortly after the NYC Department of Education sent letter notices to parents assuring them they had “successfully completed remediation work,” according to the Bushwick Daily.
In a letter the District 32 Community Education Council sent to NYC Department of Education Chancellor Richard Carranza and NYC Department of Health Commissioner Oxiris Barbot, three local schools were highlighted that are in need of an allocation of funds towards lead eradication in order to completely resolve the health issue.
While measures taken throughout the last two decades have limited lead exposure in tap water, lead can still be found in metal water taps, interior water pipes, or pipes connecting a house to a street’s main water pipe, according to The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The CDC also stated, “Children and pregnant women are especially vulnerable to the effects of lead exposure. Therefore, for homes with children or pregnant women and with water lead levels exceeding EPA’s action level of 15 parts per billion (ppb), CDC recommends using bottled water or water from a filtration system that has been certified by an independent testing organization to reduce or eliminate lead for cooking, drinking, and baby formula preparation.”
How Schools Tested in 2019
Bushwick Daily reports that the three schools that were highlighted in the letter are P.S. 376, P.S. 106, and I.S. 383—each of them displaying higher lead levels after initial testing in 2016 and remediation treatments afterwards.
In December 2016 at P.S. 376, all potential sources for drinking water or food preparation were tested, revealing that nine out of 99 samples showed elevated levels of lead. However, roughly two years later, re-test results revealed that 19 out of 122 samples had elevated lead levels, with all samples of lead being found in water fountains as well as classroom faucets. The highest amount of lead found in P.S. 376 was 469 parts per billion (ppb).
When P.S. 106 was tested in December of 2016, five out of 62 samples of potential sources for drinking water or food preparation displayed elevated lead levels. A retest in March 2019 then showed that nine out of 55 samples had elevated levels of lead, with the highest this time being 1860 ppb from a cold-water faucet.
At I.S. 383, officials conducted the same test in December 2016 on drinking and food preparation water, leading them to find that 42 of the 149 samples contained lead. While re-tests from the Department of Education after remediation of all samples in January and April 2018 showed all samples to appear clean, another test in November 2018 revealed lead levels spiking up again, with 19 out of 122 samples containing lead, the highest sample being 469 ppb.
Based on the FY2015- 2019 Capital Plan, funds were properly allocated from the school construction authority to remove lead from District 32 public school water. While the program was supposed to be complete by 2018, lead ridden pipes still remain unfixed today, and it seems they will remain this way for some time. A revised capital plan for the FY2020-2024 has failed to allocate any portion of its budget towards lead removal.
As lead remains to contaminate district 32’s water, 3-K is still expected to expand into the district, meaning more students under the age of six are expected to use local facilities. This has heightened concerns among city officials, especially considering younger children tend to be the most vulnerable to lead poisoning due to their weaker immune systems as well as their higher level of hand-to-mouth movement.
How the City is Combatting Lead
The city’s current health code mandates the Department of Education to visually inspect portions of schools occupied by students younger than the age of seven once a year by using conveyable X-ray fluorescence analyzers to detect lead on classroom surfaces. Still, various activists feel that this procedure does not do nearly enough to insure proper safety precautions, plus the Department of Education has yet to report thorough details on a remediation process to follow the recent detections of lead.
This lead poisoning issue goes beyond public schools though: 820 children under the age of six were found to have elevated lead levels in their blood between 2012 and 2016 in NYC’s affordable housing, according to the Department of Health. These test levels ranged from five to nine micrograms per deciliter in their blood, but the health department still did not inspect the children’s homes since formal city policy requires a lead level of 10 micrograms per deciliter for an apartment to be inspected. However, this policy was recently changed after public outrage, with five micrograms per deciliter now being the new home inspection minimum for a child under the age of 18.
Recognizing the Killer Effects of Lead Poisoning
Of the New York City children that were had elevated lead levels in their blood, 82 percent were Black, Latinx, and Asian, while 62 percent were residents of high-poverty neighborhoods. These elevated levels could lead to lead poisoning, which has even more drastic affects on young children such as stunting early intellectual growth, damaging cardiovascular hormones and immune systems, or even worse, leading to death.
The death rates among children with lead poisoning have been concerning many, as the Department of Health Statistics reported that from 2014–2016 alone, 225 children from the ages of 1-4 have died from lead poisoning, as well as 154 from the ages of 5-9, and 156 from the ages of 10 to 14.
Chair of the New York City Education Committee Mark Treyger spoke out and requested a system–wide inspection and remediation of public school buildings.
“This to me is an emergency,” Treyger stated. “This is not an issue that you could just simply punt and do a working group on. This is a public health issue.”