Poloncarz open to expanded lead testing

Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz stopped short of requiring his health department to mandate tap water sampling in homes where children are already diagnosed with high lead levels, but he did say that “maybe we do need to take additional steps, such as testing the water.”

He said testing drinking water for lead might make sense in the event county health inspectors fail to find any lead paint problems in the home.

His remarks come a little over a month after Investigative Post reported that disparity, ‘cheating’ and potential conflicts plague Buffalo’s sampling program for lead in drinking water.

While lead paint continues to be a problem here, the crisis in Flint, Michigan, has led to a national awakening about the safety of drinking water in cities across the country.

County Health Commissioner Gale Burstein, who refused interview requests for this story, said in a prepared statement in June that lead paint remains the primary source in their investigations of elevated blood lead levels.

“If presented with evidence that tap water was becoming an identified source of lead poisoning, ECDOH would absolutely consider modification of our testing protocol to include tap water,” she wrote at the time.

That reasoning was sharply criticized by national experts, including Marc Edwards, a civil engineering professor at Virginia Tech University, who helped uncover the drinking water crisis in Flint last year and one in the nation’s capital over a decade ago.

Edwards called Burstein’s reasoning “narrow minded.”

Yanna Lambrinidou, a Washington, D.C., activist who helped uncover that city’s lead in drinking water problems said the health department’s position is “unethical and it is entirely unscientific.”

Poloncarz’s response to the criticism was “shame on them.”

“Because all they are doing is trying to get somebody like you to give them publicity without actually addressing the real issue,” he said.

Lambrinidou, in an interview last week, cautioned Poloncarz and other officials “against abdicating their own responsibility in saying it is up to other people to help them do their job right. It is not. It is their responsibility.”

Although Poloncarz left the door open to testing the tap water in some homes where children are already diagnosed with high lead levels, Lambrinidou said that’s not good enough.

She said equal priority should be given to finding lead in drinking water and lead in paint in homes where a child is already poisoned.

“To exclude one very potent source right away from your investigation is highly problematic, and in fact, indefensible,” she said.