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North Salem School Tests Show High Lead Levels At Water Outlets

Testing for lead at the North Salem Middle/High School found levels in some outlets, such as bathroom sinks and outdoor spigots, that exceeded allowable limits. However, water in filtered "drinking stations" and kitchen sinks met quality standards.
Testing for lead at the North Salem Middle/High School found levels in some outlets, such as bathroom sinks and outdoor spigots, that exceeded allowable limits. However, water in filtered "drinking stations" and kitchen sinks met quality standards. Photo Credit: File

NORTH SALEM, N.Y. -- The bad news? Lead has been found in water in North Salem’s middle and high schools.

The good news? None of it was in hallway “drinking stations” or in cafeteria kitchen sinks used for food preparation or cooking, district officials say.

Details of test results released by the district last week, which show several drinking fountains as exceeding the federal lead limits, might have a few parents scratching their heads, however.

According to Gary Green, the district’s director of facilities, that’s easily explainable.

The company the district hired to conduct the tests at the June Road school complex, labeled everything that folks drink from as a “water fountain.”

The “drinking stations,” which can also be used to fill up water bottles, are a different animal, he said. Installed about three years ago, they have their own filters.

The district started using them because of discoloration in the water, which comes from wells, Green said.

“It was safe but didn't look nice and nobody wanted to drink it,” he explained.

Lead did turn up in several of the old-fashioned, porcelain fountains, ones which were still active, but barely used, he said. Those have been permanently turned off.

The district plans to add more “drinking stations” to both the middle school and the high school, he said.

As for the other outlets that tested high, such as outdoor spigots and custodial and restroom sinks, they will be either repaired or removed as part of a remediation plan, Green said.

Superintendent Dr. Kenneth R. Freeston and Board of Education president Carolyn Aversano told parents, faculty and staff in a letter this week that signs have been posted at “non-drinking water outlets” that exceeded acceptable lead levels warning folks that they are only for hand washing and cleaning.

Freeston and Aversano pointed out that the state Department of Health is not requiring the district to re-test the water until 2020.

However, they said, water quality is a “primary concern” and the district plans to budget for annual testing starting in the 2017-18 school year.

A new state law now requires all schools in New York test drinking water for lead contamination.

The “allowable’ limit in drinking water is 15 parts per billion.

Lead is a toxin that can cause behavioral problems and brain damage in young children, according to health officials. It is not absorbed through the skin.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed the landmark law in September and the state Department of Health issued emergency regulations requiring school districts to complete testing by Oct. 31 this year, develop remediation plans, and to report the results to parents, state health officials and local governments.

Previously, schools were not required to test their drinking water for lead, or notify parents or government officials of results. Testing was voluntary and administered by the federal Environmental Protection Agency.

Green pointed out that many school water systems do have higher results for lead because of how they are used. If water sits in piping, over the summer, breaks or weekends, it will test higher, he said.

The state testing requirements call for a “first draw,” meaning the water has had to have been sitting in the pipes, unmoving for at least eight hours. The “second draw” is tested after the water has run for 30 seconds.

For the complete test results, visit the district’s website by clicking here.

To read the district's letter to parents, click here.

For more information about lead and drinking water, click here.

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