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Sep 22, 2016 4:55 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Water Samples Taken From Southampton Schools In May Tested High For Lead

Sep 28, 2016 8:35 AM

As Southampton joins other school districts in complying with a new state law that sets new, stricter standards for lead in drinking water—and new testing—officials said this week that testing in May had shown very high levels of lead in two out of three Southampton school buildings.

Enviroscience Consultants Inc. of Ronkonkoma had taken 47 water samples from Southampton Intermediate School on May 20, and on May 21 took 54 samples from the elementary school and 87 samples from the high school. The samples were then sent to a certified laboratory to analyze the drinking water for lead.

The state’s maximum contaminant level for lead is 15 parts per billion, or ppb. Five locations in the intermediate school tested between 16 and 39 ppb, and 15 locations at the high school resulted in levels above 15 ppb—including one reading of 630 ppb, which is 42 times higher than the safe level, at an outside spigot near the high school football practice field. Another reading of 300 ppb was found in a sample from a sink in a classroom on the second floor of the high school. Other readings fell between 16 and 88 ppb.

All 47 water samples from Southampton Elementary School tested below the safe level of 15 ppb.

Emmett Urban, the district’s director of facilities, operations and school safety, informed the Southampton School Board members of the readings in July, then changed out the fixtures where necessary. He said this week that after that was done, the lead readings fell well below the new state standards, to as low as 1 ppb.

Homes and buildings built before 1986 used lead to some extent, whether it was for the water pipes or to solder joints in plumbing. Mr. Urban said the problems at the school arose with fixtures that were installed before 1986. He also made it clear that he and his crew were proactive in taking care of the problem before the students returned to school.

The sources of water with high levels of lead, Mr. Urban said, were those he and others felt were not intended to be used for drinking. For example, the janitor’s closet has a sink, and he and his team did not think it was a risk for student consumption.

As for the football team, a source close to the team said the players never drink from the outside spigot, but instead bring their own water jugs to practice.

The testing in May was performed in part because of new concerns about lead levels in schools after the crisis in Flint, Michigan.

The state law that sets the new 15-ppb standard took effect on September 6 and requires that all districts in the state test their drinking water once every five years—and have that examination completed by an independent laboratory.

Many districts across the East End have voluntarily tested their water supplies this summer in anticipation of a new state law. To be in compliance, samples must be tested from every faucet and water fountain in every elementary school—defined by the state as a school housing children from prekindergarten to the fifth grade—by Friday, September 30. Schools accommodating older children, from the sixth grade on up to the 12th grade, must test their water and submit their results to the state by October 31. New schools must test all of their facilities before opening their doors to students.

The law states that a district must post the results on its website, and that if contamination is found the district must contact all parents and teachers, immediately stop using the contaminated water outlets, and provide bottled water for students and teachers to drink.

The Southampton School District has posted the results of the preliminary tests on the school district website at www.southamptonschools.org, which can be found by going to “District” at the top of the page, selecting “Facilities,” clicking on “Health and Safety,” and then choosing “Water Testing.”

Other districts also are implementing the new rules.

Tuckahoe Interim Superintendent Dr. Allan Gerstenlauer said the head of the school maintenance department began doing tests over the summer using home water testing kits, and that all tests came back below the state maximum of 15 ppm. They were also tested just before the beginning of the school year, and those test results are pending.

Bridgehampton School officials said that school’s water was tested by Enviroscience and passed with levels below the new state parameters. Sagaponack School District officials said the water has been determined to be within the federal standards of 15 ppb, but that it is not consumed anyway, as the school uses a bottled water station instead.

Sag Harbor Superintendent of Schools Katy Graves said Tuesday now that the district knows what companies it can contract with for water testing, it will move forward within the time frame required by the state. The district tested for lead over the summer before the law was passed, she said.

“We test our water in different ways every year and this year we decided to take our focus and put it on lead, and it came in well under the [old] threshold,” Ms. Graves said, noting that the former limit was 20 ppb, but the state now requires 15 ppb.

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What do you expect for $67 MILLION DOLLARS? Safe drinking water? That would be extra. You can't have everything.
By Lets go mets (339), Southampton on Sep 22, 16 7:08 PM
2 members liked this comment
Yikes! I wonder how long this was going on?
By Hamptonsseashell (359), on Sep 22, 16 9:06 PM
"then changed out fixtures" Wanna bet said fixtures came from China....
By bird (755), Sag Harbor on Sep 22, 16 10:19 PM
1 member liked this comment
Always too late???
By knitter (1604), Southampton on Sep 22, 16 10:47 PM
The fixtures were an outdoor spigot and a classroom sink, people....neither of which students drink from. Come on Southampton Press...stop with the misleading headline here. Our students aren't in danger of lead poisoning. The district was proactive...tested the school's months before NYS required schools to do so...and the fixtures are all changed and lead-free now. Way to, once again, show how you will take any chance to make it sound way worse than it actually is.
By remytwoton (23), southampton on Sep 23, 16 5:39 AM
3 members liked this comment
Students absolutely drink from the sinks...teachers do too. Don't start insulting people when you don't know the truth.
By S'hamptonNative (80), Southampton on Sep 23, 16 12:57 PM