State regulations mandating the testing for lead in water in all public New York schools went into effect on Sept. 6, 2016. To comply with these state laws, the DOE has been testing all water outlets in all New York City schools for lead. Chapter leaders should have received the results from the testing conducted at schools via their principals. As part of this state regulation, notification letters on the results must be sent to school staff and parents of students. You may also access your school’s results on the DOE's Water Safety website.
The UFT Safety and Health department receives all reports from the DOE and is monitoring the testing to ensure notification and remediation occurs according to these new laws. We are also recommending that chapter leaders walk through their schools to ensure that where there were elevated levels that those particular sinks or fountains are not used for drinking. Do note that because lead does not absorb through the skin, state regulations do not require sinks that can be used for hand washing to be shut off if a sign is posted to tell people that the water is NOT to be used for drinking but can be used for hand washing. The sign is only a temporary measure. Water service to outlets with the express purpose of drinking or cooking (i.e., fountains and kitchen sinks) must be shut off. Notify us if this is not being followed.
Following findings of elevated levels, the DOE will remediate the problem by identifying and removing whatever the source of the lead may be (i.e., brass fixtures, valves, fittings, solder, etc). The water will be retested for lead afterward. If the lead levels are below the state standard of 15 parts per billion (ppb), it can be returned to service and the sign be removed. If not, further remediation is required until test results show that lead levels are below 15 ppb at that outlet.
As for the health effects and potential exposure, we are recommending to members who frequented an outlet with elevated levels and think they have been exposed to lead to ask their doctors for a blood lead test. The water we source from the city is rigorously tested to ensure that it is safe; however, it may pick up lead once it enters a school building with lead in its plumbing system and especially after the water sits for long periods of time in pipes that may contain lead. Flushing by the custodian and continuous use by occupants in the building should move water along and prevents lead contamination from water sitting in pipes over long periods of time. Citywide water testing in schools has occurred three times in the past, and historically we have not yet had a case of lead poisoning among members (and students) that was linked back to the water in their school. Nonetheless, we still recommend that if members think they have been exposed to lead that they ask their doctors for a blood lead test. Bring your school’s notification letter to your doctor and request a blood test that can determine lead levels in the body. Do let the UFT Safety and Health Department know if you have a diagnosis of elevated blood lead levels in your school. If you have any further questions, feel free to contact your district representative, borough safety and health specialist or the UFT safety and health department.