A document billed as the most comprehensive report in the nation on lead in school drinking water was delivered to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo on Friday as part of an aggressive effort to eliminate the heavy metal from educational institutions statewide.
The report, delivered to the governor by the Commissioners of Health and Education, grew out of a major tap water testing program implemented by legislation Cuomo signed in September.
So far, 96 percent of schools, including those on Long Island, have conducted testing and 88 percent have reported results to the State Department of Health. All told, more than 256,000 drinking water outlets in nearly 2,940 schools across the state have been tested. In instances when lead was discovered at levels above 15 parts per billion — equivalent to 15 micrograms per liter of water — the school was required to take that outlet out of service until it was fixed or replaced, officials said.
Lead levels in 86 percent of the tested outlets were below the established level of 15 parts per billion, according to the report.
The State Health Department has made the findings available to the public on its website at health.data.ny.gov.
Children are particularly vulnerable to lead exposure, which can impair brain and central nervous system development as well as impede the ability to learn, said Dr. Andrew Adesman, chief of developmental and behavioral pediatrics at Cohen Children’s Medical Center in New Hyde Park.
“It’s important that efforts be made to protect kids, especially if lead is in the drinking water,” Adesman said.
In 2016, about 20 percent of Long Island school districts reported that testing found elevated levels of lead in tap water outlets, according to a Newsday/News 12 Long Island survey. The discovery caused a shutdown of drinking fountains and forced fixture replacements.
“I am encouraged by the tremendous effort put forth by so many schools to comply with this new regulation in only four months,” State Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker said in a statement Friday.
“As we work to help correct problem areas identified in this report, we will also focus on bringing the remaining schools into compliance,” he said.
All public school districts and boards of cooperative educational services — BOCES — were required to test drinking water systems for lead contamination, and to take steps to thoroughly address the problem, if the metal was found. The state will help pay remediation costs, officials said Friday.
Last week, a committee empaneled by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention voted for a 30 percent reduction in what should be deemed an elevated level of lead in the blood. Panelists said 3.5 micrograms of lead per deciliter of blood should be considered the new threshold for the toxic metal. The current level is five micrograms, according to the CDC.
If the new recommendation is approved, it could increase the number of children diagnosed with elevated blood lead levels, some experts say. The CDC will review the recommended change before making a final decision later this year. However, the agency generally abides by the decisions of its expert panels.
New York City’s department of education, meanwhile, has not completed testing. As of Wednesday, the department had submitted results from 541 of its 1,720 schools. Lead levels in 91 percent of the reported outlets were below the established threshold of 15 parts per billion, officials said.