On Sep. 6, 2016, Governor Andrew Cuomo signed legislation mandating all schools in New York to test their drinking water supply for lead contamination. Testing for lead contamination will occur in buildings serving pre-K through 5th grade students by Sep. 30th, 2016, while schools serving 6th-12th grade will test by Oct 31st, 2016. New York is the first state in the U.S. to pass legislation mandating schools to test their water supply for lead contamination.
Toxic even in small quantities, lead can cause brain damage, leading to permanent behavioral and cognitive problems in children. Federal law from 1986 required plumbing fixtures in schools to be “lead free,” but still classified some materials composed of up to 8% lead as “lead free.” In 2011, an amendment to the Safe Drinking Water Act appropriately re-defined the meaning of “lead free,” meaning plumbing materials installed between 1986 and 2011 could be comprised of up to 8% lead. Plumbing materials installed before 1986 could have even higher amounts.
All schools in New York must test 250 mL samples taken from cold water outlets where the water has been motionless between 8 and 18 hours. Testing water that has been standing motionless is critical: In July, lead tests done in New York City schools were only performed after the schools had left water outlets fully turned on for two hours the night before, according to The New York Times. This “pre-stagnation flushing” preemptively removed lead-contaminated water, invalidating the tests. Schools will now report their results from standing water to the state Department of Health within one business day, while parents and staff must receive written results within 10 business days. Any water outlet showing lead levels above 15 parts per billion must be discontinued while the school provides a lead remediation plan and an alternative drinking water supply to all building occupants.
Governor Cuomo said he was proud to sign “the toughest lead contamination standards in the nation” in order to improve the health and growth of children across New York. Assembly speaker Carl Heastie said, “This testing requirement is long overdue and will allow schools to address any issues that exist in their water systems and buildings to give parents, students, and faculty the peace of mind they deserve.” This legislation will make the test results public, so parents and teachers will know what’s in their children’s drinking water at school.