NEW YORK — Schools across the state must test their water for lead following new legislation signed into law Tuesday.
The law, among the first of its kind across the country, is designed to keep the more than 2.5 million students in New York public schools safe from lead. Even small amounts of lead consumption can be damaging, especially for children.
“These rigorous new protections for New York’s children include the toughest lead contamination testing standards in the nation, and provide clear guidance to schools on when and how they should test their water,” Governor Cuomo said.
Water supplies have been tested for years, but lead can enter drinking water through old pipes. People were allowed to use pipes with lead in them up until the passage of the Safe Drinking Water Act in 1986. But many schools are older than the legislation and have pipes containing lead.
No safe blood lead level in children has been identified, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention information. Lead can cause stomach distress, brain damage, reproductive problems, decrease kidney function and premature birth. It also bioaccumulates in the body over time.
A dose of lead that might not harm an adult could have a significant effect on a child. Lead ingestion for children can cause slowed growth, hearing problems, hyperactivity, anemia and lower IQ.
Schools have gone into a lead testing frenzy following the revelation of lead in water in Flint, Michigan. Lead contamination was found as a problem in nearly half of Newark’s public schools. There were levels as high as 37 times the federal limit. High levels of lead were also recently found in New York schools – six Long Island schools were shut down in May after high levels were found.
All elementary schools will be required to collect water samples for testing by Sept. 30 under the new law. Middle schools and high schools must collect samples for testing by Oct. 31. Schools will have to shut down sinks and fountains with lead levels above 15 parts per billion.
New York schools will be required to perform new tests every five years, Cuomo said.
“There’s not a more important place to start this overall and ongoing effort to better address lead contamination than within our schools to protect our children,” said Senator Tom O’Mara, co-sponsor of the bill.