New “back to school” item for parents: toolkit to ‘Get the Lead Out of schools’ drinking water

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Heather Leibowitz

Environment New York

New York, NY – With “back to school” in full swing this week, Environment New York today offered a new toolkit to help parents, teachers, and administrators Get the Lead Out of schools’ drinking water. Citing a lack of accurate information on lead contamination in water and how schools should prevent it, Environment New York is encouraging parents and teachers to put the new toolkit on their “back to school” reading list. 

“Our kids deserve safe drinking water at school,” said Heather Leibowitz, Director of Environment New York.  “We want to give parents, teachers, and school administrators the tools they need to ‘get the lead out.’” 

More and more schools are finding lead in their water. For example, across New York City, roughly 83 percent of 1,544 school buildings had elevated lead levels in their water during the 2016-17 year, according to an analysis by the Department of Education.

Moreover, such confirmed cases of lead-laced water are likely just the tip of the iceberg. As noted in the toolkit, most schools built before 2014 have plumbing and/or fixtures that can leach lead into drinking water.  And at some older schools, the service lines that bring water from the mains in the street into buildings are made entirely of lead.

“I know many parents who had a new water bottle on their ‘back to school’ shopping list,” said Melissa Ray, a New York City teacher.  “What about the water that goes in that bottle?  We’ve got to make sure our kids have safe drinking water at school.”

Environment New York’s toolkit includes a factsheet, a video, sample materials to press for action, and links to additional resources, especially on technical questions like proper testing.

“Lead is a potent neurotoxin, affecting the way our kids learn, grow, and behave,” said Kimberly Jablon, a pediatrician who received her medical degree from the State University of New York Downstate Medical Center College of Medicine. “I strongly recommend parents get the facts about lead contamination of drinking water and how to prevent it.”   

Fortunately, some progress is being made in New York to get lead out of drinking water. Last year, Governor Cuomo signed landmark legislation, which includes the toughest lead contamination testing standards in the nation, and mandates that schools across the state test drinking water for lead contamination. While this is a good first step, more work is needed to ensure that our children are truly protected from lead contamination in schools’ water. Currently, action is only required when tests show lead in drinking water at 15 parts per billion. However, last summer the American Academy of Pediatrics urged a change in new federal standards to ensure that water fountains in schools do not exceed water lead concentrations of more than 1 part per billion rather than the current 15 parts per billion allowable now.  Earlier this year,  Environment New York gave the Empire State a grade of C in addressing this threat to children’s health.

 “No parent should have to worry about their child drinking water with lead,” said Leibowitz. “We have got to do better.  We owe it to our kids.”

“I’m recommending this Get the Lead Out toolkit to parents,” said Ray.  “It’s short and gives you concrete tools to work with your school and ensure safe drinking water for our children.”