Pencil lead: Downtown schools found to have high lead in water

New York Public Library Like many older bulidings Downtown, 26 Broadway — built in the early 1920s — has aging lead pipes for its plumbing. Two public schools located in the former Standard Oil Building have tested positive for elevated levels of lead in the water.

New York Public Library
Like many older buildings Downtown, 26 Broadway — built in the early 1920s — has aging lead pipes for its plumbing. Two public schools located in the former Standard Oil Building have tested positive for elevated levels of lead in the water.

BY COLIN MIXSON

Downtown schools need to get the lead out.

Eight out of 10 public schools in Lower Manhattan have tested positive for dangerous levels of lead in their water, according to the city.

At 26 Broadway, home to the Lower Manhattan Community Middle School and Richard R. Green High School of Teaching, lead was found at outrageous levels in January, including at one kitchen faucet that contained the toxic substance at 1,900-parts-per billion, more than 70 times the average amount found in homes at Flint Michigan.

“That is very, very high,” said Dr. Judith Zelikoff, a toxicologist and professor at the Department of Environmental Medicine and NYU Langone Medical Center.

New testing protocols implemented by the city’s Department of Education, which require faucets and water fountains to remain inactive for eight hours before testing, led to revelations that water in many schools throughout the city contained lead at levels considered high enough — 15 parts per billion or more — to warrant immediate action by the federal Environmental Protection Agency.

Lead was found at dangerous levels at the following Downtown schools:

• PS 234 Independence School at 292 Greenwich and 200 Chambers streets

• Spruce Street School, 12 Spruce St.

• District 2 Pre-K Center, 1 Peck Slip

• The Peck Slip School, 1 Peck Slip

• PS 150, 334 Greenwich St.

• Lower Manhattan Community Middle School, 26 Broadway

• Richard R. Green High School of Teaching, 26 Broadway (entrance at 7 Beaver St.)

• Leadership and Public Service High School, 90 Trinity Pl.

• Battery Park City School, 55 Battery Pl.

Older buildings, such as the 89-year-old 26 Broadway, often have aging lead plumbing that can leach the heavy metal into water. But even Spruce Street School –— located in a relatively new building that opened in 2011 — found toxic levels of lead in four out of 138 tests, posing a mystery as to why a new building should contain the contaminant.

“That is brand new,” said Tricia Joyce, chair of Community Board 1’s Youth and Education Committee. “That’s really interesting and concerning.”

Whenever lead is detected at 15-parts-per-billion or higher, the source point for the water is immediately taken out of service until remediation work can be completed and additional tests show results below the so-called “action level,” according to the city.

Furthermore, all parents of children at schools with high lead results were sent letters by DOE Deputy Chancellor Elizabeth Rose providing detailed information on the tainted water sources, the lead levels found there, and the possible health consequences associated with lead consumption, which include a range of neurological conditions, along with kidney damage, and reproductive issues.

The letter describes the danger posed by the contaminated faucets — which at 26 Broadway included 13 hallway water fountains — as “low” due to the new testing protocols requiring water to stand overnight prior to sampling. School staff have been directed to flush the water system at effected schools every morning, causing lead concentrations to drop “sharply,” according to the city.

Young children under the age of eight years old are most susceptible to lead poisoning, but only as a result of chronic exposure, according to Zelikoff.

Parents who feel their children are at risk should consider having them tested for lead in their blood, Zelikoff said.

“I always err on the side of caution, and people who are concerned about it need to go to a physician and have their blood lead levels tested,” she said.

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