- Associated Press - Saturday, April 9, 2016

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) - An Associated Press review of U.S. Environmental Protection Agency data shows 82 out of 2,800 public and private drinking water systems in New York state have had lead levels exceeding the federal action limit at least once since 2013.

That includes 16 schools or day care systems that have their own water supplies. New York has about 4,800 public and 2,100 private schools, but most of them don’t have to test their water because it comes from municipal systems that do the testing. Some state lawmakers are seeking to change that.

Assemblywoman Barbara Lifton, a Democrat whose central New York district includes several schools dealing with lead problems, introduced a bill last month requiring local water districts to test for lead at all schools and day care centers every three years, with the state picking up the tab. It would require written notification to parents if elevated lead levels are found.

“Some people surmise it could be a fairly widespread problem,” Lifton said. “A lot of schools were built when lead was used in the plumbing. As we do the testing, we’ll find out how widespread the problem is.”

A bill sponsored by Assemblywoman Donna Lupardo, with bipartisan support, would provide funding to school districts to test water for lead in buildings constructed before the federal Safe Drinking Water Act required lead-free plumbing in 1986. Lead exposure is especially dangerous for young children because even low levels in the blood have been shown to affect learning and behavior.

In February, Ithaca City School District Superintendent Luvelle Brown announced that drinking water sources in all city schools would be shut down and replaced with bottled water after the district released test results that showed numerous drinking water sources in the schools exceeded the EPA action level for lead. Parents criticized the district for not telling them about the high lead levels for five months.

At Appleby Elementary School in the rural Cortland County town of Marathon, EPA data show the action level for lead - 15 parts per billion - was exceeded four times in the last three years and has never been below 4.4 ppb. At a public meeting about lead in the water 10 years ago, parents were told monitoring would continue and bottled water would be provided until the problem was solved.

“In 2014, we replaced all the cold water pipes, all the bubblers, all the fountains,” said Marathon School Superintendent Rebecca Stone. “Since that time we’ve had no difficulties.”

Nationwide, nearly 1,400 water systems serving 3.7 million Americans, including 278 systems owned and operated by schools and day care centers, have exceeded the federal standard at least once in the last three years, according to an AP analysis of sampling data reported by roughly 75,000 drinking water systems.

In New York, 58 of the 82 water systems that had an elevated lead level serve fewer than 500 people. The largest municipal water supply to exceed the federal action level was in Tarrytown, serving 11,000 people 25 miles north of New York City. It had a sample result of 15.7 ppb in 2013 and has never had a sample below 4.5 ppb since testing began in 1992. No amount of lead exposure is considered safe.

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