What our schools are doing about lead traces found in water


As a national discussion about water quality — specifically in relation to lead levels — grew in the aftermath of the water crisis in Flint, Mich., local school districts began looking internally, testing their own water for the hazardous metal. 

Last month, Shoreham-Wading River Superintendent Steven Cohen sent letters home to parents announcing that five locations within three of the district’s buildings contained traces of lead.

According to Dr. Cohen, “Only five areas demonstrated a concentration in excess of [Environmental Protection Agency] standards upon first draw.” The locations were a water fountain by the stage at the high school, a water fountain near Room 102 and a sink in Room 406 at the middle school, and two locations in Briarcliff Elementary school, which has been closed since 2014.

After the first draw, a second round of testing known as flush samples — in which water runs through the tap for 60 seconds before a sample is taken — was conducted from the locations that had tested positive for lead. Four of the five sinks had common malfunctions and are able to replaced, Dr. Cohen said. The fifth location, the sink in the nurse’s office at Briarcliff, is under further investigation, as the problem couldn’t be easily identified.

The district is looking into piping and other infrastructure within the Briarcliff building in an effort to fix the problems. As of Tuesday afternoon, the faucets in question were in the process of being replaced, Dr. Cohen said.

In May, Riverhead School District Superintendent Nancy Carney announced that four of the district’s 250 water taps had exceeded the federal standards for lead content. Three of them were sinks in the middle school — two in the kitchen and one in Room E4 — and a sink in Room 103 at Roanoke Avenue Elementary School, she said.

In a letter sent home to parents, Ms. Carney said the district worked with JC Broderick and Associates, an environmental/construction consulting and testing firm, to address the problem.

The company suggested the four fixtures be removed and the pipes capped. It also recommended that the new fixtures be retested.

Ms. Carney added that both a primary draw and flush draw were taken on all taps. During the primary draw, lead amounts exceeded the EPA action level in four taps, but during the flush draw all four taps were under the EPA action limit.

“The faucets identified in the water sampling were replaced at the Pulaski School and the Roanoke Ave.,” Mark Finnerty, director of facilities, wrote in an email. He added that the locations were retested weeks ago by JC Broderick and the district is awaiting lab results.

The EPA states that ingesting lead can be detrimental to both children and adults, although it’s significantly more harmful to children.

“In children, low levels of exposure have been linked to damage to the central and peripheral nervous system, learning disabilities, shorter stature, impaired hearing, and impaired formation and function of blood cells,” according to the agency’s website.

Lead exposure can also cause anemia, slowed growth and hearing, and behavior and learning problems in children. A pregnant woman with high levels of lead in her bloodstream can experience premature birth or reduced growth of the fetus, the EPA says.

Adults exposed to lead can suffer from decreased kidney function and reproductive problems.

Dr. Cohen and Ms. Carney both said the replacement work in their districts is scheduled to be completed by the start of the school year.

Caption: Shoreham-Wading River Superintendent Steven Cohen (Credit: Jennifer Gustavson, file)

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