Lawmakers Press Chancellor Farina on High Lead Levels in Schools
Washington, DC- In the wake of disturbing results of high lead levels in New York City public schools, Democratic members sent a letter today to Education Chancellor Carmen Fariña urging additional steps to address the contamination.
“It is not enough to test water for lead levels, in the face of concerning results, immediate action must be taken to remedy this injustice,” said Rep. Nydia M. Velázquez (D-NY) who spearheaded the letter. “For the sake of our children, it is imperative that we do everything in our power to ensure that a child’s experience in our public schools is a healthy and productive one.”
While the City has taken actions to shut off outlets with lead levels above 15 parts per billion, the threshold to warrant serious concern, the letter highlights the need to do more. Multiple factors like temperature, plumbing, and water acidity contribute to unsafe lead levels. Members called for continued testing, an investigation into the source of contamination, and accessible information for parents and families.
“When information on lead levels gets home and a parent or family member faces a language barrier, we are doing a disservice,” said Rep. Velázquez. “It is crucial that in an effort to educate families, we ensure that materials cater to the diversity of our city.”
Additionally, the letter requests that Chancellor Fariña inform members of Congress of the necessary resources to rebuild damaged infrastructure and continue rigorous lead testing.
“While we are dismayed by the testing results, we must not forget our common interest in serving the children of New York City,” said Rep. Velázquez. “As members of Congress, we rely on information provided by the Chancellor to know what resources are necessary to upgrade infrastructure and eliminate high lead levels.”
Velazquez was joined by all eleven fellow members of the House of Representatives New York City delegation including: Rep. Jerrold Nadler, Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, Rep. Gregory W. Meeks, Rep. Grace Meng, Rep. Yvette D. Clarke, Rep. Eliot L. Engel, Rep. Joseph Crowley, Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney, Rep. Adriano Espaillat, Rep. José E. Serrano, and Rep. Daniel M. Donovan, Jr.
The text of the letter is below:
Dear Chancellor Fariña,
We were disturbed to learn that 83 percent of New York City school buildings had at least one fixture with lead levels above 15 parts per billion, including some drinking fountains. In some schools, levels were more than double the allowable limits. While we commend the city for retesting all schools without flushing pipes, as had been the city’s previous practice, we are deeply concerned about these results.
As you know, exposure to lead can have devastating consequences for young children, including damage to the central and peripheral nervous system, learning disabilities, shorter stature, impaired hearing, and impaired formation and function of blood cells. That is why it is critical we not only inform parents of any lead risk, but make sure to fix the problem.
We were pleased to see that you took swift action by turning off any outlets where the sample exceeded 15 parts per billion and have made plans to replace any fixtures. Unfortunately, fixtures are not always the source of the problem and lead concentrations in water are not static. Rather, pipes and plumbing could be the cause of lead leaching into the water. Moreover, water acidity and alkalinity, temperature, and other factors all determine the extent to which lead enters the water. According to Marc Edwards, the Virginia Tech professor who helped uncover the water crisis in Flint, “A tap that tested good today, can dispense dangerous levels of lead tomorrow, as long as lead is in the plumbing." Thus, it is critical that you not only continue to test water in schools, but also determine the source of lead contamination.
Additionally, the American Academy of Pediatrics has suggested that drinking fountains in schools should not have lead concentrations of more than 1 part per billion. While we understand you are only required to follow federal guidelines, parents and pediatricians should be aware of the exact levels of lead in the water so that they can make informed decisions.
We strongly urge you to continue testing, and sharing detailed information with schools and families, not only on school websites, but on the “Water Safety Portal.” As you work to keep communities informed, please ensure that this information is easily accessible and available in not only English, but the many languages spoken in our diverse city.
Finally, we hope to be your partner in working to ensure schools provide a safe and enriching environment for children. That is why we ask that you inform us of the resources you need to adequately fix our city schools. You took an important step in retesting all schools and informing communities of the results. While we are alarmed by the findings, we look forward to working with you to rebuild our schools and keep our children’s drinking water safe.
Download the full letter here.