Elevated lead found in Lackwanna schools water

10.21.16 | Bob Price

Water quality tests have detected elevated levels of lead in multiple sources across the Lackawanna City School District, prompting the district to temporarily turn off certain faucets and drinking fountains.

That's according to a letter sent to parents this week, signed by acting Superintendent Lisa Almasi.

In the letter, Almasi said school officials received the results of the tests on Oct. 14, leading to "immediate action" from the district. 

"All affected sources of water were immediately turned off and will remain turned off until lead levels are confirmed to be below the acceptable level of 15 parts per billion," Almasi said in the letter. 

The district is now awaiting results of follow-up tests in order to determine how the water became contaminated with lead in the first place. The water itself is not the problem, Almasi said, but it's possible the infrastructure caused the issues.

School Board President Leonard Kowalski said he cannot provide any more information beyond the letter, but he emphasized the district will be forthcoming with any new information it receives. The district will replace any water sources with elevated lead levels, according to the letter.

Amber Watroba, the mother of a seven-year-old daughter in second grade, first notified 2 On Your Side about the school district's letter. 

"Lead is poisonous. It can't happen," she said. "It shouldn't happen."

Kowalski said the district's buildings underwent water quality testing in compliance with a new state law, which Gov. Cuomo signed in September. The New York State Department of Health then issued emergency guidelines to school districts, requiring them to test for lead levels by the end of October. 

Dan Telvock, an environmental reporter with 2 On Your Side's Investigative Post partner organization, said the new testing procedures could reveal issues with lead in districts across the state. Before this year, districts were not required to participate in municipal water testing.

Elevated lead levels in school water sources hardly qualifies as a minor concern, considering there is no known safe level of lead for children to consume.

"The biggest thing is, that letter (in Lackawanna) does not state how much lead they found," Telvock said. "That's a critical piece of information that parents deserve to know."

Watroba said she'd like further clarification from the district-- and she'd also like to see the district provide bottled water for students.

"Take action against it," she said. "Fix the problem."