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Lead level 88 times the state standard is one of 68 high readings found in Buffalo schools

The water testing results for 18 Buffalo public school buildings, so far, show that 68 water outlets had elevated lead levels.

And the single highest reading came from a third-floor drinking fountain at the Olmsted School at Kensington – which had lead levels that were 88 times the state standard.

"We have had a concern about lead poisoning in children for quite some time," said Superintendent Kriner Cash on Tuesday afternoon.

Tests have been completed for nearly a third of Buffalo schools. The district was required to test roughly 6,700 water outlets throughout its 58 schools, Central Registration Building, and three athletic field facilities.

Water sampling for all schools has been completed, except for DaVinci High School, which will complete water sampling on Thursday.

The Buffalo school district lagged behind other area districts in posting its water testing results. But on Wednesday, the district plans to send available results to parents of children at affected buildings, and put out robocalls, and also post detailed information on its website regarding the test results, administrators said.

As of Tuesday, the district had received results for 15 elementary schools and two schools with high school students, as well as an administrative building. District spokeswoman Elena Cala said the list of schools would not be provided until Wednesday, when the complete test results will be available to the public.

[Related: Buffalo-area schools may have gone decades without testing for lead in water]

While 68 water outlets – drinking fountains, sinks and faucets – were found to have lead contamination levels in excess of 15 parts per billion gallons so far, that was out of roughly 2,300 outlets tested.

Only five of those water samples with high lead levels involved drinking fountains.

The district has benefited from the upgrading of many of its school buildings, as part of the Joint Schools Construction Project.

All fixtures with elevated lead levels are being shut off and replaced, Cash said. In cases where, for sanitary reasons, a sink cannot be shut off, signs will be posted indicating that the water may not be used for drinking.

"We are following the guidelines strictly," Cash said.

But Buffalo school administrators acknowledged that they are not testing every school water faucet in the district.

Yvette Gordon, the district's director of safety and health, said the water from 300 science lab sinks were not tested because eating and drinking is not permitted in those rooms, and teachers monitor the rooms to ensure compliance. In that case, Gordon said, the state does not require testing of those faucets.

As more test results come in over the next few weeks, more letters will be sent home, and more information will be posted to the district website, administrators said.

[Related: More districts scramble to address high lead levels in school water]

With regard to the drinking fountain with high lead levels in Olmsted at Kensington, Principal Michael Gruber said that the water fountain in question is part of a fixture that has both high and low drinking spouts. Both exceeded the state standard, but the higher level spout had a much higher lead water reading of 1,320 parts per billion. The other, lower spout had a lead level below 60 parts per billion.

That water fountain was underused, had a weak water stream, and was located on the third floor at one end of the building where there is less student traffic, Gruber said. It was the only drinking fountain water fixture in the building found to have elevated lead levels.

"It is out of service as we speak," he said.

The district expects it will cost up to $300,000 to test and replace water outlets throughout the district, though much of that cost is expected to be reimbursed by the state. The district contracted with four different water testing groups, including the Erie County public lab and three other private testing labs, to process its huge number of water samples.

The district water testing comes in response to an emergency measure signed into law by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo in September, requiring all public school districts to test the lead levels in all of their potable water outlets – from exterior hose lines to drinking fountains to classroom sinks.

Since then, the rush has been on to get every tap tested and to share results with the public.

All districts are required to post their results on their district websites and report their findings to their county and state health departments.

email: stan@buffnews.com

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