In Depth: School lead testing

November 17, 2016 07:08 PM

Parents all across New York State are finding out that their kids may have been exposed to lead in their school's drinking water.

That's because a new state law requires testing for lead and some school districts have found shockingly high levels, including here in the Capital Region.

Advertisement – Content Continues Below

At least one local district is taking it a step further. They are paying for blood tests for students and staff.

A faucet in the kitchen of Voorheesville Elementary School has been deemed unsafe to use. It's one of many water sources in the district with high levels of lead.

While most are in places like science rooms, this one had been used for cooking, and filling water jugs.

"When you have a level that is over 100 times what the state standard is, that causes a concern that students could have been exposed, and that staff members could have been exposed to higher levels of lead for an extended period of time,"explained Voorheesville Superintendent Brian Hunt.

The source of the lead was traced back to some soldering work that was done back in May. The contaminated part has been removed and replaced and testing continues to be done to make sure the levels come back safe.

In the meantime, the district is offering to reimburse the cost of blood tests for students and staff.

"Our thought was many students and staff members could have been exposed through that, so since the levels were so high, we wanted to make sure people's health was protected," reasoned Hunt.

We've known about the danger of lead in paint in our homes and in our daycares, so why did it take so long to test our schools?

"This is one of the things that Flint, Michigan has taught us, that water can sometimes be a source of lead exposure in children," explained Pediatrician Dr. Diane Tenenbaum of St. Peter’s Hospital. "We didn't quite appreciate how big of an issue that exposure probably was up until now."

Voorheesville isn't the only school in the region with high levels of lead in the water. Since the state mandated testing in September, schools in Saratoga, Shenendehowa, Bethlehem, North Colonie and Guilderland have all discovered similar problems.

So what should parents do if they learn their kids may have been exposed to lead in school?

Lead exposure in babies and toddlers is the biggest concern. In high enough levels, it can have a lasting effect.

"Worst case scenario, you could definitely see some issues related to headaches, learning abilities and other things related to cognition," noted Tenenbaum.

She says any parents who are concerned should have their child bring bottled water to school. You can also talk with your pediatrician about getting a blood test for your kids.


WNYT Staff

Copyright 2016 - WNYT-TV, LLC A Hubbard Broadcasting Company