“Out of Order” – Advocating to Eliminate Lead in NYS School Drinking Water

Student | Taylor Novick-Finder
Faculty | Leonel Lima Ponce, Ira Stern
School of Architecture, Graduate Center for Planning and the Environment

This report models and analyzes the impact of remediating NY State school drinking water outlets to a new reduced action level of 5-ppb. The data analysis explores common characteristics of school districts with high levels of lead contamination, and their relationship with race and class. This report is an accompaniment to the Lead in School Drinking Water online Portal, a tool produced for the client, the New York League of Conservation Voters.

Lead is particularly damaging for children for several reasons: children absorb as much as 90 percent more lead into their bodies than adults; children’s organs and bones are immature and rapidly developing; and children also have an incomplete blood-brain barrier.
Data on NYS school building age and condition of plumbing fixtures was collected from the 2015 Building Conditions Survey. Buildings’ plumbing fixture condition rating was used as a color signifier, to measure periods of original building year and assess patterns of contamination in relation to this measure.
Results of NYS School Drinking Water Testing in 2016, depicting that New York State has the highest number of children with lead poisoning.
Various organisations set different thresholds safe amount of lead in water, EPA, WHO, and FDA.The American Academy of Pediatrics maintains that water consumed by children should not exceed 1 ppb, yet there is no official consensus at the federal, state, or local regulatory level.
The data was divided into four quadrants, dividing school districts by level of contamination and budget. This led to the identification of 27 priority districts within the high contamination/low budget category with the highest degree of contamination to smallest relative budget.
To determine the financial cost of end-of-pipe remediation for outlets testing between 5-15 ppb, data was collected from the New York State Education Department’s previous records of reimbursement requests for remediation. Reduction to a 5-ppb action level cost an estimated $32.27 million in remediation for schools across the State.
School districts across New York State were mapped according to the percentage of their outlets that would be considered elevated under a 5-ppb action level. These maps have been incorporated by NYLCV into an online portal that tracks the lead levels across NYS.