School District Answers Ongoing Lead Questions


NORTH SALEM, N.Y.— The North Salem School District is answering continuing questions from concerned parents about the recent discovery of lead in most of the outlets and spigots at the middle/high school.

In a newly released document entitled “Keeping Our Drinking Water Safe, Medical and Health Related Concerns,” North Salem Central School District answered several commonly asked questions by parents and faculty that have cropped up since the school district announced the results of its lead testing in drinking water at the middle/high school.

The questions are part of a continuing document that is evolving, said Superintendent Dr. Kenneth Freeston, and  were answered with the help of the district’s medical director, Dr. Elliot Barsh.

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Out of 240 outlets tested, 145 exceeded the state’s limit of 15 parts per billion, or 60.5 percent, results released last month show.

One of the tested spigots, a floor outlet in a boys rest room, was found to have 89.4 parts per billion (ppb) of lead, or nearly 600 percent greater than the meximum permitted level.  Freeston said it is a floor-level spigot likely originally installed for supplying water to bathroom cleaning equipment and requires a key to open. He said it had not been used in years at the time it was tested.

The lead level results at Pequenaconck Elementary School found that of the 85 spigots, faucets and water fountains tested, 27, or approximately 32 percent, exceeded state limits.

School districts are required to sample what’s known as the “first draw,” not water that has been running.  

Freeston said it was important to answer parents’ questions.

“One of the obvious questions we get a lot is, ‘are the sinks really safe for washing hands?’ The answer from every source we have including the CDC is yes, they’re safe for washing hands,” Freeston explained, adding, “I don’t want you to take my word for that, but I want you to see the facts with appropriate sources.”

The issue of “potable” water has been the subject of confusion at the school. Outlets that are labeled “not potable” are safe for hand washing, but not drinking.

One of the questions asked in the Q and A with Dr. Barsh was whether all staff and students should be tested for elevated lead levels in their blood.  Barsh said only if the lead water levels are found to be elevated after the pipes are flushed. The recent tests at the middle/high school and PQ were the first, draw as required. None was after water was flushed.

There were also concerns that many students and adults consumed water from faucets that exceeded the lead test limits for many years. Barsh was asked what individuals should to to ensure they have no health issued related to consuming the water.He said that if residents are at all concerned, they could request a blood test by their physician.

Other people were concerned about the safety of washing with water with high levels of lead in it. Barsh said even if you have a cut on your hand, it is safe to wash in the water because lead is not absorbed through the skin.

Speaking at the Jan. 18 Board of Education meeting, Freeston said answers are still being sought to the ongoing issue.

“All these questions are going to the facilities committee, which is working on getting the answers to all of these questions, which are being distributed to parents and faculty. It’s also going to our architect, and engineers that we hire, to give professional advice, to be the ones to answer these questions.”

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