(Staten Island, NY) – Council Member Joseph Borelli (R-South Shore) and Council Minority Leader Steven Matteo (R-Mid Island) are calling for a public hearing of the Council’s Health Committee to investigate the protocols that are currently in place with regard to water quality testing, and whether actions taken by the NYC Department of Education (DOE) inappropriately influenced the results of the testing.
In April of this year, in light of testing results showing elevated levels of lead exposure in Staten Island schools, Borelli and Matteo sent a letter to the Chancellor of the DOE inquiring about their protocol(s) relating to water quality testing in public schools, water quality testing transparency, and communication between the DOE, school administration and parents. The DOE has not responded to that inquiry.
This week, the New York Times published an article describing the technique used by the DOE to mislead independent water quality testers and influence the results of the tests to show artificially-lowered levels of lead and metals exposure that would fall within the acceptable ranges. According to the Times, every school that was tested turned on every water outlet in their respective buildings for two full hours to rid the pipes of the lead, metals, and sediment build-up that were present in time for the next day’s water-quality test. The federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) specifically recommended against the practice, called “flushing.” The EPA clarified this position in a memorandum this February, in response to the lead exposure crisis in Flint, Michigan, which was allowed to fester because water quality testing was manipulated.
The Council Members are calling for a formal hearing of the Council’s Health Committee to investigate the policies the NYC DOE currently has in place, and potential manipulation of the water quality tests by NYC DOE. Further, Council Member Borelli intends to introduce legislation that will officially ban the manipulative practice of “flushing” to ensure that in the future, NYC DOE cannot compromise the testing results.
“That our constituents may be sending their children to school to be unknowingly subjected to heavy metal contaminants like lead in their drinking water is unconscionable. It is a fundamental expectation of parents that their children be provided with a safe environment at our public schools, and goes without saying that the water from which they drink should be clean and the integrity of the required testing should not be compromised for the sake of political expediency,” said Borelli. “From the moment we were made aware of the presence of elevated levels of lead in the drinking water at Staten Island’s public schools, Minority Leader Matteo and I have been committed to making sure the DOE has protocols in place to conduct accurate and transparent testing, in line with federal guidelines for safe drinking water, and without manipulation from DOE officials.”
“The recent article by the NY Times calls into question whether DOE’ tests of lead content in our schools’ water supply are reliable, as they seem to ignore the harsh lessons learned from the Flint water crisis,” said Matteo. “Councilman Borelli and I have asked for a Council oversight hearing so DOE can clearly communicate its lead testing protocols and methodology, and hopefully provide the public with some answers and peace of mind.”