Councilman Joseph Borelli (R-South Shore) and Council Minority Leader Steven Matteo (R-Mid Island) are asking the Chancellor of the New York City Department of Education to explain the circumstances that led to the recent finding of contaminated drinking water at eight public schools on Staten Island. In a letter addressed to Chancellor Carmen Fariña, the two public officials sought clarification as to how these buildings tested positive for elevated levels of lead in their drinking water even though lead based equipment was removed and lead based service lines were replaced at public school buildings almost a decade ago.
In 2002, the city began testing water quality at public schools in an effort to reduce the rate of lead poisoning in children. A protocol was established for schools whose drinking water tested positive for elevated levels of lead, requiring that they follow a weekly flushing routine, among other actions. It was reported that between 2008 and 2010, the city removed lead based equipment, such as water fountains, from public school buildings. The federal Safe Drinking Water Act prohibited the use of lead piping in new construction after 1986, but did not require older buildings to upgrade to lead free piping; however, between 2008 and 2010, the city claims to have replaced all water service lines leading to school buildings with non-lead piping.
In the letter, the officials ask for clarification as to what the Department of Education’s protocol is in terms of the frequency of water quality testing in public school buildings as well as the actions taken by the agency when the contamination of drinking water is discovered in one of their buildings. A review of agency policy is also being sought, with the officials requesting notification of hazardous or potentially hazardous conditions occurring at schools in their district. There was no notification given to public officials before the announcement of these elevated levels of lead, making it difficult to field questions from frustrated and concerned parents.
“New York City is home to the largest public school system in the nation. It is of the upmost importance for us to ensure that the water quality in our schools is safe for our children,” said Borelli. “Our infrastructure is aging, and we must take steps to mitigate the potential negative effects that come along with centenarian infrastructure. I look forward to working with Chancellor Fariña on this issue.”
“When it comes to the health and safety of our residents, especially our children, we must be on the same page in order to avoid panic, confusion or unintended harm,” said Matteo. It is critical that we as elected officials understand the DOE’s process for testing and mitigating lead in the water supply, and that we have accurate and timely information about these tests to provide to those residents we represent.”