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City officials pleased with latest round of tests for lead in Buffalo's drinking water

Drinking water samples taken earlier this year in 152 Buffalo homes showed either no detectable levels of lead or levels that met Environmental Protection Agency standards, city officials said Wednesday.

But the city is working with homeowners and residents of seven homes where the amount of lead in drinking water exceeded a new standard Buffalo officials put in place that they say is tougher than federal requirements.

Facing questions about lead levels in drinking water following the crisis in Flint, Mich., Buffalo embarked on an effort to test for lead in more places and more often than it had been.

In past years, the city has followed EPA standards which they said required lead testing in 50 homes once every three years.

City officials in this latest effort tripled the number of samples tested, though they say they'd like more Buffalo residents to volunteer to participate. And the testing for lead in homes will take place annually from now on.

The current EPA "action level" for lead content in water is any amount greater than 15 parts per billion. The city said its changing its standard and lowering it to 5 parts per billion, which is the Food and Drug Administration's standard for the amount of lead permitted in bottled water, said Oluwole A. “OJ” McFoy, chairman of the Buffalo Water Board.

Related: Rate of lead poisoning for children in WNY far exceeds that of Flint, Mich.

Of the 152 samples tested as of Monday, 87 had no lead detected, while 58 showed less than 5 parts per billion. The seven homes where the city is working with homeowners showed lead levels between 5 and 15 parts per billion, officials said.

Mayor Byron W. Brown heralded the test results in a news conference at the Col. Francis G. Ward Pumping Station at the foot of Porter Avenue.

"Independent test results show that city of Buffalo water is lead safe," Brown said.

The EPA has concluded, based on the best available science, that there is no safe level of lead in drinking water.

The official testing period ran from June 1 through Sept. 30, but city officials said they are continuing to accept samples and testing will be ongoing.

The city distributed testing kits to 256 homes. Of those kits, 162 have been returned and 10 are still undergoing testing. The samples were picked up from homes and tested by TestAmerica Laboratories, a national company with a location in Amherst.

Residents participate in testing on a voluntary basis and finding people willing to participate has been challenging, according to city officials. McFoy said ideally he'd like to see 1,000 Buffalo homes participate in annual drinking water testing.

Officials did not release the data on lead levels Wednesday, but may make it public by the end of the week, McFoy said. Officials said they are waiting to release the information so they can include all results.

Additional drinking water tests were conducted at all water fountains in city parks. Officials said all of those results came back "well below the EPA standard of 15 parts per billion.

"Knowing that exposure to any lead in water is unsafe, we're taking a number of other steps to further enhance our plan to reduce the presence and potential of lead in Buffalo water," the mayor said.

The city is in the process of testing in city-owned buildings that house pre-kindergarten activities. Buffalo Public Schools are also conducting their own testing, independent of city government's testing, Brown said.

City residents interested in participating in drinking water testing should call 311. City officials will drop off the 1-liter container that residents have to fill up and place outside to be picked up. Detailed instructions come with each testing kit.


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