February 26, 2016

Ithaca School District Shuts Off Water Supply Following Detection of Lead

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Following the detection of high levels of lead, the Ithaca school district shut off its water Wednesday, motivated by what superintendent Luvelle Brown called “an abundance of caution.”

A previous test of the water quality released in 2005 revealed levels of lead that exceeded the action level, but district officials are still investigating whether any action has taken place since then, according to The Ithaca Journal.

This discovery follows on the heels of the Flint water crisis and ongoing public health emergency. Drinking water containing high levels of lead has left thousands of children in Flint, Michigan at risk of serious health problems.
Brown said in an email to district parents that the district will quickly take steps to evaluate the water’s quality.

“Immediately, we will begin a thorough updated water testing and evaluation process in all district facilities,” he said.

In the meantime, water bottles will be distributed to teachers and students, according to the email.

“Bottled water will continue to be provided in each building until we have verified that the water meets applicable environmental standards,” Brown said.

The school district’s actions, however, have not put parents’ minds at ease. Parent Carolyn Colella, a former Ithaca resident and employee at World Water Solar — a company that advises on water management — said she feels “incredibly disturbed and concerned” about the possible risk to her son.

“My child was a student starting as a four year old in the Universal Pre-K classes at South Hill Elementary and he too could have been subjected to poisoning,” Colella said. “Like probably every other parent across the United States, my family is asking local officials to look into the lead levels in our infrastructure.”

Jim Bryan ’86, another employee at World Water Solar, said he expects more parents around the country to be concerned.

“This to me is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of the concern that’s going to be generated in the public,” he said. “If I were a betting man I would say you are going to see measures taken across the country and you’re going to hear bad news across the country in some cases.”

It is ironic that this crisis is happening so close to Cornell, according to Bryan.

“There is a well endowed school with some of the brightest minds teaching and matriculating at the school some of the most privileged students and academics and yet just miles away we have a third world water problem,” he said.

Bryan also said that there are similarities between Ithaca’s water problem and Sierra Leone during the Ebola Crisis.

“I don’t want to presume to make a perfect analogy between Sierra Leone and Ithaca, New York — it would be irresponsible,” he said. “But on the other hand, the situations are similar in that you have water that is harmful, if not extremely harmful over time, and it needs to be addressed and cleaned up or there’s going to be serious health consequences.”