Amidst the backdrop of a national water crisis, New York City officials have assured residents they have the situation under control.
The Department of Education has issued letters this week informing students’ parents of the municipality’s water quality, following revelations of lead contamination in the neighboring city of Newark. According to the letter, city officials will make water inspection data publicly available online. Results show that just 1.13 percent of samples taken in the past 14 years showed elevated levels of lead. The number dropped to 0.09 percent if left running for a short period.
New York City consistently evidences some of the highest levels of water quality control in the country. All publicly owned buildings in the area, including the schools, replaced their lead service lines between 2008 and 2010. A 2011 report by Riverkeeper found that the city tests for more contaminants than any other cities surveyed, although it noted higher-than-average levels of lead in tap water. According to the report, residents could flush lead out of the tap by letting it run 30 seconds before drinking.
Revelations of water poisoning near and far, however, have raised anxiety among New Yorkers. The city of Newark, less than 15 miles away, ordered water shut off in the district following tests evidencing a sullied water supply in each of its 30 schools. Nearly eight percent of samples in Newark last year showed lead levels at thirty times the federal threshold.
Newark is just the latest of a string of cities to discover problems with the water sources. The ongoing controversy in Flint Michigan has attracted no small amount of attention, while towns in upstate New York and Vermont, such as Hoosick Falls and Bennington, have discovered other toxins such as PFOA, a material used in teflon production, abundant in their drinking supply.
These events have served to underscore long-standing environmental negligence throughout the country. While federal standards stopped the use of lead in construction in the 1970s, much of the nation’s aged infrastructure has remained woefully out-of-date. Lead pipes, lead paint and even naturally occurring lead have left Americans exposed for decades. An investigation by USA Today found incidents of lead-contaminated water not only in New York, but also Maine, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Arizona.
Lead poisoning issues in New York State have reached a fever pitch in the northwest. In Oneida County, 21.7 percent – more than one in five – of children tested positive for toxic levels of lead exposure. Lawmakers in New York and New Jersey have joined forces to rectify gaps in current regulation.