Lead In Bronx Schools Exceeds EPA Standards

By Victor Ordonez

Water exceeds EPA’s “action level” metal concentration standard after new testing methods prove to be more accurate. Owen Corrigan/The Fordham Ram

Water exceeds EPA’s “action level” metal concentration standard after new testing methods prove to be more accurate. Owen Corrigan/The Fordham Ram

The Cross Bronx Expressway was recently named the most congested urban roadway in the country. This designation correlates with rates of asthma within the borough, where roughly 20 percent of its children suffer from the respiratory disease.

It seems there are new environmental health concerns for the borough. Experts last year reported that there were flaws in New York City’s method of testing water for lead, according to a New York Times article. The methods that were previously being used could hide dangerously high levels of metal, which may have impacted lead levels in Bronx schools.

These concerns were at first dismissed by officials, according to the article. However, the methods of testing water have since changed and now show that the experts were indeed correct.

As of reports released by the state health department in early February, the latest tests have found nine times as many water outlets contain lead levels above the Environmental Protection Agency’s standard. Bronx schools were not immune to this calamity.

The EPA’s “action level” of 15 parts per billion is the set standard of metals tolerable in any given water supply, according to the state health department website. Tests from the Bronx High School of Science show that, as of last month, 13 water outlets contained metals well over the set standard.

One sample from a water fountain contained a lead concentration of 1,590 parts per billion. Later, an office faucet had a lead concentration of 7,480, according to numbers obtained by the New York Times.

These numbers evidently had not been obtainable due to prior testing methods. Experts believe that this is the result of a method known as “pre-stagnation flushing.”

Pre-stagnation flushing is the act of removing or cleaning of faucets aerators prior to testing. In past methods, protocol had workers turn on all water outlets the night before testing and let the water run for two hours or more. Upon shutting off the outlets, the water remaining within the pipes sat for eight hours before samples were taken by officials from the state department.

Other states such as Wisconsin do not allow pre-stagnation before testing, and the act is punishable by law, according to documents on the EPA’s website.

Under the city’s prior protocol, the EPA’s guidelines for schools did not address the flushing practice, even though experts say it temporarily reduces lead levels because it cleans the inside of pipes of soluble lead.

Upon large outcry from experts like Marc Edwards, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Virginia Tech who has written to the EPA and Center for Disease Control (CDC) on multiple occasions, the city’s health department agreed to issue regulations that discouraged pre-stagnation flushing within the five boroughs as of late last year.

Simultaneously, the state health department decided to retest all school buildings under new protocols that abolished pre-stagnation flushing.

Only a fraction of the results have been released since the new testing had begun in early December 2016. City officials have declined to release all results to the media until all tests have been completed later this month.

EPA regulations require that any water outlet used for cooking or drinking found to contain lead concentrations above its action level be turned off until they can be replaced. Schools that tested over the action level are supposed to have drinking water outlets and kitchen faucets flushed for at least 10 minutes by a custodian every Monday morning.

Elizabeth Rose, the Education Department’s deputy chancellor for operations, said that the test continued to show that the water in schools was overall safe, in a comment to The New York Times.


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