New Enfield lead report shows unpredictability of lead contamination

ITHACA, N.Y. — On Thursday, the Ithaca City School District (ICSD) and Tompkins County Health Department (TCHD) released the latest results from their lead testing efforts. Here is a summary of the key takeaways from the Enfield report.

The issue of lead in the water at Enfield and Caroline Elementary Schools first came to light early in February, when ICSD released the results of tests taken in January. The news was met with anger and frustration by parents in both towns, in large part because the tests performed in August has indicated there was a problem but the school did not inform parents.

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Then the next set of test results from tests, performed in early in February and revealed later that month, turned up more results that were above the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) action level of 15 parts per billion (ppb) of lead, including several results over 100 ppb.

The Tompkins Health Department, however, had concerns about the testing procedure. They explained that, "both the vigorous flushing of the water system, which may have created disruptive, turbulent or scouring conditions in the water pipes, and the subsequent closing of the main shut off valve, potentially released lead-containing particles into the distribution system."

The results

The latest tests, performed by the TCHD on Mar. 3 and ICSD on Mar. 10, showed no discernible trend. Some results were higher than the February tests, while others lower. Similarly, test results from the TCHD tests and ICSD, taken just a week apart, had high variability.

The highest test result from the newest tests in Enfield is a classroom drinking fountain that tested at 2420 pbb -- the highest result detected yet in Enfield. The second draw from that fixture was 26.7 ppb, which is still above the EPA action level.

TCHD's and ICSD's March tests both included "first draw" and "flushed" samples. First draw samples are taken after the fixture has been sitting for several hours, while the flushed sample is drawn after the water has been run for a time, which can flush out some of the lead concentrate.

TCHD sampled eight locations on Mar. 3. All eight of them tested above the action level on the first draw, while two flushed samples were above the action level. Some of the fixtures were observed leaking prior to or during the sampling, so those results may not accurately represent a true first draw sample.

ICSD sampled five locations on Mar. 10. All of the fixtures tested were ones tested by TCHD the week prior. All five first draw samples were above the action level, while three of the flushed samples was above the action level.

According to the report, the water was filtered through a coffee filter and debris was noted in five of the eight samples collected for visual analysis. Sediment or debris was contained on all aerators, including at a faucet that had been recently replaced due to the high results of its accompanying drinking fountain in January

The table below shows the results from all the recent tests, starting with the August 2015 tests that first revealed the issue:



While the new tests performed at Caroline Elemntary seemed to support the theory that testing errors had skewed the February results, Enfield's results indicate no such correlation. The TCHD was able to draw only a few conclusions:

  • cleaning and changing the aerator does not have a significant impact on water quality
  • changing water fixtures was not effective in reducing the lead concentrations -- results where the fixture was replaced (Room A13 drinking fountain) were not significantly improved and both the Mar. 3 and Mar. 10 first draw results were higher than the action level, while the flushed sample results at this location were both below the action level
  • the well that sources Caroline's water is likely not contributing to the problem
  • locations where the flushed sample result was higher than the first draw may indicate a plumbing problem

Moving forward, the district and TCHD will continue to examine the lead issue. Earlier in the week, ICSD approved a contract with LaBella Associates for additional testing and possible remediation solutions. LaBella will be working with the district to examine the plumbing in more detail and pinpoint any trouble areas before additional tests or changes can be implemented.

Meanwhile, the ICSD will continue to provide certified bottled water while the investigation continues. TCHD will be coordinating with ICSD, NYSDOH and EPA on the investigation at all schools in the District.

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