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F-M tests drinking water for lead following new state standard 

A new state law that requires public school districts to test water for lead contamination will not require the Fayetteville-Manlius School District to retest the 580 water outlets it tested prior to the law’s passage on Sept. 6.

The district’s previous testing methods meet the state’s requirements for collecting water samples and analyzing the results. Prior to the law, F-M had been following the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) guidelines, which state the “action level” for drinking water in schools is at lead concentrations of 20 parts per billion. Under the state’s standard, water sources that could potentially be used for drinking or cooking that have lead levels greater than 15 parts per billion are to be taken out of service.

“We are happy to be out in front of this and that the methods we used for testing comply with the new state requirements,” said F-M Superintendent Dr. Craig J. Tice. “We will continue with our plans to test throughout the district, ensuring that we are following the state standards and keeping the community informed of our progress and the test results.”

Under this new guidance, the district reviewed its previous testing and determined that an additional 15 sinks and 2 water fountains – out of the 580 F-M water samples analyzed by Life Science Laboratories in the spring and summer – were above the state standard of 15 ppb, for a total of 50 outlets above the state standard. However, the majority of those outlets are not considered potable water outlets.

Multiple follow-up tests on outlets that previously tested above the state standard at Enders Road and Mott Road elementary schools have consistently showed lead levels below the state standard.

“It could have been that the samples tested during the summer months were elevated because school hadn’t been in session regularly then,” said F-M’s Director of Facilities Russell McCarty. “We are talking with the state about that now, but we have had six additional samples tested from those outlets, and they have all come back below the action level.”

Fayetteville Elementary’s initial results were all below the state standard, so all three elementary buildings have no potable water outlets testing above the state standard.

Previous testing also indicated that F-M High School had no outlets used for drinking or cooking that registered above 15 ppb, and Eagle Hill and Wellwood middle schools each had one drinking fountain that tested above 15 ppb. The district has taken them out of service and plans to do follow-up testing on both to determine a remediation plan.

The sinks at Eagle Hill and Wellwood middle schools and F-M High School that tested above the state standard are not used as drinking sources, and so the district placed signage near each sink indicating that the water should not be used for drinking. According to the EPA, human skin does not absorb lead that is in water and so water with elevated lead levels may be used for hand washing and science experiments.

Although there was no legal requirement in place for school districts to test for lead in drinking water when the district began its sampling in the spring, the district wanted to take a proactive measure to ensure student and staff safety, especially in light of national and local news surrounding elevated lead levels in drinking water, said Michael Vespi, F-M’s assistant superintendent for business services.

Schools will be required to collect samples every five years, at a minimum, after the initial testing or at a time determined by the Commissioner of Health.

For more information about lead in drinking water, please contact your family physician or go to the EPA’s website.