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HTC lowers district lead threshold after trace levels detected

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Greene County Legislator Larry Gardner, D-Hunter, Hunter-Tannersville Superintendent Susan Vickers and Jewett resident Greg Kroyer listen to HTC Buildings and Grounds Superintendent Lou Ferraro speak about the recent lead threshold change in the district. The change was spearheaded by Kroyer’s concerns about lead levels in school drinking water.
January 11, 2018 11:30 pm

HUNTER — The Hunter-Tannersville Central School District voluntarily lowered its lead threshold after trace levels were detected in district faucet and drinking water in 2016.

Hunter-Tannersville School Superintendent Susan Vickers spoke at the Greene County Legislature meeting this week about the district’s decision to lower the lead threshold from the state’s regulation of 15 ppb (parts per billion) to the federal recommendation of 5 ppb.

Greg Kroyer, a concerned Jewett parent who brought the federal recommendation to the board’s attention last winter, also spoke at the meeting.

Kroyer encouraged other school districts to consider lowering their thresholds like Hunter.

“When we send our children to school, they are being exposed to a hazard,” he said in a phone call Wednesday.

Eight faucets in the district were turned off in 2016 after September testing found them to have trace amounts of lead, according to a report on the district’s website. The violating numbers ranged from 17.8 ppb in a boys’ locker room sink no. 11 to 32.6 ppb at sink no. 18A 203 C — more than twice the state limit.

One drinking fountain, described in the report as 8A on left, was found to have 20.3 ppb of lead.

The fixtures on the violating faucets were repaired. No piping or water supply was affected, said Lou Ferraro, Hunter-Tannersville’s supervisor of building and grounds.

“Hunter-Tannersville is a zero-tolerance, lead-free school, and we are proud of it,” Ferraro said.

The district is responding to the findings by holding themselves to a higher standard than the state’s 15 ppb threshold by implementing a voluntary policy to shut off faucets spraying water with 5 ppb of lead or more, said Greene County Legislator Larry Gardner, D-Hunter.

“Hunter was not asked to do this by anyone,” said Greene County Legislator Lori Torgersen, D-Windham.

“Everybody here loves a good challenge,” Vickers said at Monday’s meeting. “So find it and get rid of it, let’s get to zero.”

The policy was implemented in May 2017 after Kroyer voiced his concerns to the school board about how high the threshold for lead is in the state.

“The school district sent a letter home in December 2016 concerning testing that was done and talking about the 15 ppb regulation,” Kroyer said. “The testing had taken place in September and we were just finding out about it in December. The district believed they were doing the right thing by turning off the faucets so nobody could ingest the water.”

The letter prompted Kroyer research lead poisoning and children, he said, adding he wasn’t informed about the topic prior to the letter.

“I attended a board meeting after receiving the letter and pointed out how I felt the state threshold was inadequate,” Kroyer said. “The EPA and CDC have said there is no acceptable lead level in water, while the FDA have said 5 ppb is the maximum.”

The American Academy of Pediatrics cites anything above 1 ppb is unsafe for children, Kroyer said.

“What brought me out was how unsafe lead is for a child,” Kroyer said. “After attending a few meetings and talking with the board, they understood and said it sounds right to them.”

Kroyer said he is pleased with the change in his district, but wishes more schools would adapt the stricter threshold.

“Most schools just turn off the faucets,” he said. “Children who are guzzling water with greater than 15 ppb of lead are being harmed.”

Kroyer’s children, who are in fifth and ninth grades in the district, have not shown signs of being affected, he said, but added it is hard to predict what potential lead exposure can do to a child.

“If a child loses 5 IQ points or something, we cannot really tell that,” he said.

Gardner is also happy about the new policy, he said Wednesday, adding “the less lead, the better.”

“This has been addressed properly, and I hope to see more districts do the same,” Kroyer said.

So far, other school districts in the county are unsure about the idea of taking steps to implement the plan.

“Right now, there is no plan to implement anything like that,” said Kevin Lawton, director of facilities for the Cairo-Durham Central School District. “Our lead levels are pretty low right now — probably lower than you’ll see elsewhere.”

Cairo-Durham’s lead levels for the 2016 cycle were tested twice after 10 of 181 sites tested high for lead, according to reports on the district’s website. After the second round of testing, all water sites showed less than 1 ppb of lead, according to the documents.

Catskill Central School District Superintendent Ronel Cook said Thursday he is unsure about implementing the new threshold.

“I think there needs to be a conversation, but I’m not comfortable saying if it’s possible until I talk to the board and discuss it with the appropriate people,” Cook said.

Windham-Ashland-Jewett School District has no intention of lowering its threshold at this time, School Superintendent John Wiktorko said Thursday.

“We follow the state-established threshold of 15 ppb,” Wiktorko said. “Windham takes its lead from the professionals in the state who set the levels.”

To reach reporter Kaitlin Lembo, call 518-828-1616 ext. 2513, email klembo@registerstar.com or follow her on Twitter @KaitlinLembo.