The Saugerties Central School District recently identified 34 samples from non-potable water outlets as exceeding levels of lead deemed acceptable by the New York State Department of Health, but school officials this week said they’ve already tackled most of the issues.
“We turn everything around as fast as is practical,” said Superintendent Seth Turner. “In fact, most of the issues have been remediated by this point. We had the Thanksgiving break and maintenance was able to get in there.”
The 34 locations were discovered in a sample of 250 outlets taken in the junior and senior high school between October 12 and 13; a further 10 samples were taken earlier in the year. Of the 260 total samples taken, 34 exceeded the 15 micrograms per liter (mcg/L), or parts per billion (ppb).
These included a total of 21 sinks in eight science classrooms, four kitchen faucets in a pair of home and careers classrooms, four faucets in three separate faculty restrooms, three faucets in a technology classroom, and a pair of steamer spray lines in a cafeteria kitchen.
“I think it’s important to note that the bulk of the findings were in science labs, not water outlets that would typically be used for potable drinking water,” Turner said. “It’s suspected by some that there could have been elevated levels because those hadn’t been used regularly.”
In a letter to parents and guardians sent Nov. 29, high school Principal Thomas Averill said that all 34 locations were immediately taken out of service unless used for hand washing or cleaning, and in those instances signs were posted indicating the faucets should not be used for drinking.
“An adequate supply of potable water for drinking and cooking is available to all building occupants of the Saugerties Junior/Senior High School through any of the other 226 water outlets sampled and verified to be in compliance with Department of Health regulations,” read Averill’s letter. “Keep in mind that every water fountain and water-bottle refill station has been deemed to be safe for consumption according to these standards.”
The letter also said that the faucets, fixtures and plumbing in the 34 outlets which surpassed the acceptable lead levels would be remedied according to Department of Health guidelines.
“We’re diligent with anything related to student and staff health and safety, and we go and remediate these issues,” said Turner, adding that some of the faucets were relatively simple fixes. “There was a finding for faucets in the kitchen, but those hadn’t been used and wouldn’t be used, so those were capped and shut off. A lot of them, particularly in home ec rooms, it was just replacing faucets. Those were relatively easy, and those were done immediately. Every one of them gets evaluated further by plumbers and other people who know what they’re looking for, and every action that was necessary, every one of them was done.”
Turner was unable to provide a cost estimate for the remediation as the project was still ongoing, but he said the district prepares for facilities issues within its operating budget.
“It’s built into the budget as building maintenance,” he said. “You budget that you’re going to have to repair something within the facilities. You run six separate schools and have 200 acres of grounds to maintain. They’re large facilities.”
The district conducted a round of its own testing in the spring, including its four elementary schools and district offices on the high school campus. The test found that 85 percent of faucets were free of all contaminants, with the remaining 15 percent below the level designated by the EPA for concern.
That testing was undertaken without a directive from the state after contamination in the water in Flint, Mich. (where the highest level registered at 13,000 ppb) as well as in the public drinking supply in the village of Hoosick Falls in Rensselaer County.
The latest testing came after Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed the Lead Testing in School Drinking Water legislation on Sept. 6, which expanded testing beyond drinking fountains, even if a faucet isn’t ordinarily associated with potable water.
“You might think a garden hose isn’t something somebody isn’t going to drink out of, but then there might be a sports team drinking out of the garden hose,” Turner said. “You’d better make sure you test all those things.”
Turner said the letter from Averill was a matter of the district wanting to share its results, what it’s doing about them, and where the community can get more information.
“Please be assured that the school administrators and the Board of Education take seriously our responsibilities for the health, safety, and wellbeing of the children, staff members, and community members who utilize our facilities,” read Averill’s letter.
For more information on lead testing in the district, visit: www.saugerties.k12.ny.us.