Editor of Production
Most people have heard of the catastrophic Flint, Michigan water fiasco that resulted in the lead poisoning of thousands, but according to one recent study by Quest Diagnostics, Flint isn’t actually where the lead problems for children are the worst.
In fact, the lead levels of Syracuse children reported by Quest Diagnostics give Syracuse the highest national lead poisoning rate between 2009 and 2015, more than Flint, or anywhere else in the country.
The study found that 40 percent of Syracuse children from ZIP codes starting with 132 had lead levels in their blood of between 5 and 10 micrograms per deciliter. Sixteen percent of these children were tested at over 10 micrograms per deciliter. According to the Center for Disease Control, levels as low as 2 micrograms per deciliter of blood can begin to cause serious health issues, including decreased IQ, stunted growth, hyperactivity, hearing problems, anemia or death.
In repsonse to the lead poisoning levels not only in Flint, but also here in New York State, Governor Andrew Cuomo has required that all New York schools test their water for high lead levels. If levels come back higher than the 15 parts per billion limit set by the Environmental Protection Agency, then the faucet or fountain must be discontinued immediately and a plan to fix the problem must be implemented. Elementary schools had to have testing done by Sept. 30. For schools that hold students in grade six or higher, testing had to be completed by Oct. 31.
In light of these recent requirements, testing was done throughout the Jamesville-DeWitt Central School District. The District contracted with OCM BOCES Safety Divison to complete the sampling in September and October. Water samples from the three elementary schools, as well as the middle school and the high school were then analyzed by Life Science Labratories, Inc.
Superintendent Alice Kendrick is “very pleased” that not a single outlet outlet used for drinking tested positive, according to the recently released results.
At the high school, six out of the 137 samples tested above the accepted level of 15 ppb. This resulted in two sinks in the kiln room being turned off. Outlets including a sink in the band room, a sink in a science prep room, and a washing sink and sprayer in the cafeteria kitchen have been labeled as “non-potable water for washing only,” as specified by state regulation.
At the middle school, 162 samples were collected. Of those, two exceeded the acceptable level: a sink in the girls’ bathroom and a sink in one of the science rooms. At Tecumseh Elementary School, just one sink, in the Pupil Personnel Services Office, showed lead levels higher than the actionable level, out of 93 samples. Of the 52 samples collected at Moses DeWitt Elementary School, three came back with significant levels of lead: a sink in the library, a sink in the computer lab, and a pot washing sink in the cafeteria kitchen.
These outlets have been turned off or labeled as “non-potable water for washing only” and will be replaced in the near future, as required by state law. Lead levels will be tested again once fixtures are replaced to assure that the water is safe.
According to state law, the District is not required to turn off sinks that have a specific purpose. Water outlets that tested positive will be kept on and labeled as “non-potable water for washing only,” as they are used for washing, not cooking, says Dr. Kendrick. Yet, some are still uneasy about the kitchen’s continued use of these sinks for washing dishes. The primary method of exposure to lead is ingestion. Thus, there are legitimate safety concerns about eating school meals that may have been cooked on such dishes. “I don’t feel comfortable with eating food that might have been cooked on dishes washed with lead water. Maybe I’ll start to bring my lunch more often,” says junior Nico Modesti.
While Dr. Kendrick is “pleased to report that all water outlets typically used for for drinking did not exceed the acceptable standard for levels of lead,” the results haven’t seemed to mitigate people’s concerns over the cleanliness of our water. Rather, there’s been an amplification of students’ and faculties’ worries about the lead levels since the results have been released.
Science teacher Richard Adler began drinking the water out of a sink in his room over 10 years ago. In more recent years, he has used that water every day to make tea. Unbeknownst to him, he was slowly poisoning himself with water that has tested for hazardous levels of lead. “In the last year or so, I’ve been drinking tea every day, so that’s why I’m starting to get a little nervous,” says Mr. Adler. Mr. Adler plans on undergoing testing to monitor his lead levels, and ensure that there has been no harm to his body. However, the District is not compensating Mr. Adler for the costs of these tests, and will not be taking steps to address others that drank from water sources that tested high for lead.
However, music teacher Daniel Blumenthal expresses that he isn’t concerned over the high lead levels that came back for a sink in the band room. “It’s mostly a hand-washing sink or a sink used to rinse out mouthpieces, but if people need to get a drink, I’ll just tell them to use the water fountain,” says Mr. Blumenthal. “It’s just something we need to deal with.”
J-D joins a list of several other school districts in Central New York, including Marcellus, Fayetteville-Manlius, Jordan-Elbridge, and Ithaca, that have tested above the acceptable lead levels at water outlets. Matters were worst in Ithaca, where levels were so high at some sources that all drinking water was temporarily shut off and students were given bottled water until further tests could be completed.
J-D hasn’t had the best luck in recent times when it comes to water problems. Just last year, a water fountain in the Red Hall malfunctioned, resulting in a flood that brought damage to the Red and Blue Halls. Costs to repair damages to the floors, ceilings, walls, and photography room affected by the flood totaled to more than $100,000.
The water fountain that caused the flood, as well as the water fountains in the cafeteria and main foyer, were replaced with more eco-friendly water bottle filling stations, part of the school’s overall effort to become greener.