A recent article in The New York Times reports that new lead testing in New York City schools reveals that many schools have lead levels that are higher than those recommended by the Environmental Protection Agency.
After high lead levels were exposed in Flint, Michigan, New York City officials were prompted to check lead levels in schools. However, the first round of testing was considered illegitimate after it was revealed that officials had run water for hours before testing the water for lead, a process called flushing that can artificially lower the lead levels in water.
Eighty three percent of school buildings in New York have at least one outlet with a lead level above the threshold of 15 parts per billion. Two school buildings in Queens had some of the worst results: in one school with 1,500 students, 34 outlets had levels above 15 parts per billion.
The New York City Department of Education (NYCDOE) responded quickly, sending home letters detailing these results and pledging action. NYCDOE has turned off outlets in question and will not be turning them back on until their levels are found to be under the threshold. The potential impact of this finding cannot be overstated. It reflects a deeply ingrained system of negligence in the largest school system in the United States (over 1.1 million students attend more than 1,800 schools in New York City). Despite a gradual decrease of children lead poisoning cases in New York City over the past decade, a problem of this scope shows that the tragedy of Flint is not unique to one particular city.
Children are a vulnerable portion of the population when it comes to environmental hazards. They spend their childhood in old school buildings with other students and teachers and will suffer consequences if lawmakers or officials shirk their duty to protect them. Parents are also left similarly helpless if a school system, as large as New York City’s, does not work to maintain the health of its students.
Thankfully, this detection occurred before cases of lead poisoning led to tragedy. Perhaps New York is indebted to Flint in that respect. Hopefully, New York City can set a model of decisive, proactive prevention of lead poisoning for future cities and school districts. In the meantime, it is important for parents to stay involved and informed of their children’s health at school, and for parents to work with schools in order to provide the best possible learning environment for young students.