Question: Help us test public water fountains in NYC for lead!?

read_holman asked on August 30, 2018 18:31
135 | 0 answers | #17027

This is both an announcement and a question.

The Announcement: There's an amazing startup community science effort spearheaded by to test all the public water fountains in NYC for lead. // The Question: Any chance you can help out?

If there's any interest, if you're in NYC, or if you know folks in NYC that you think may be interested, please jump in here and let's connect, brainstorm, talk out the details, etc.


@liz Hi there -- were you the person who mentioned a water monitoring effort with a college in Queens? Wondering if that'd be a group that would be interested in this.

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I'm based in Bed-Stuy and the Lower East Side, and I'm very interested!

@xuhulk awesome! Bedstuy and LES are 2 likely hotspots for lead. You can sign up to be a tester at Corlears Hook Park and Loeb Playground in LES are particularly old playgrounds for which I haven't yet found any record of drinking fountain renovation, which increases the likelihood that lead pipes, lead solder, and/or lead fixtures are in use. If you can think of any specific communities we should reach out to, like science classrooms or mom's groups or running groups, it'd be great if we could test a bunch of fountains before they go off for the winter. You can email me directly via sean [at] citizen spring [dot] org Cheers, Sean

Hi @read_holman -- I might have mentioned the Newtown Creek Conservancy and the North Brooklyn Boat Club (there is a lot of overlap between the two organizations). They've been involved with a lot of colleges, schools, organizations, etc over the years with different water quality monitoring. I can put you in touch with one of the people I know there.

Hi @Bronwen -- a slightly delayed reply here. I'm sort of the middle man for this one. @smmontgom-- do you want to check out the orgs mentioned here? Looks like intros are possible.

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NYC has a robust lead testing program through the Department of Environmental Protection. I am wondering if this project can use their methods and their labs?

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A lengthier write-up on this effort by @smmontgom

Crowdsourcing lead testing in NYC parks and playgrounds

"We're now looking for ways to engage communities that can help test local drinking fountains and upload the results to our map. The process is pretty simple and our web forms walk you through how to get a free lead test kit, collect scientifically accurate samples, and upload the results so everyone can see which fountains are safe and which ones have toxic levels of lead. "

Hi @Bronwen I'd love to make a connection at Newtown Creek Conservancy and the North Brooklyn Boat Club if you wouldn't mind putting me in touch. My email is sean [-at-] citizenspring [-dot-] org. Here's our main website and the public lab research note (+comments) has a little more info for folks that have an appetite for citizen science nitty gritties Cheers, Sean

@liz there is indeed a lot of potential synergy between what we're doing and the NYC DEP testing. Essentially we're building on their methods and updating it with 21st century technology to (1) allow any faucet to be tested by using mobile web forms, geolocation, pictures of the faucet, etc and (2) to have all the data shown live on a public map so that anyone can know which fountains have been tested safe. Do you happen to know anyone I might reach out to at NYC DEP that would interested to develop that synergy?

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Hi @smmontgom - Apologies for the slow reply, we've had a busy week! Off the top of my head, the lead-specific research in North Brooklyn has been happening around soil testing, while the water quality work that the NCA and NBBC does is focused on effects monitored in and around Newtown Creek (the concern of those groups tends to be on coping with the effects of ongoing and legacy industrial pollution, though the overlap between industry and infrastructure is naturally quite extensive). That doesn't mean that there aren't people or groups working on projects that might be more obviously aligned with yours, though I'm personally a little less aware of who might be a good contact. Attending some of the events held by either of those groups could be a good start towards getting to know who is already working on what in that area. That said, you seem to have just a few water fountains listed for all of North Brooklyn-- nothing much in the area where these groups operate: can you say a little more about how you chose your testing locations, and the ways you're hoping to collaborate with community groups on this project?

Creating map visualizations and working towards media-friendly assessments of environmental issues is definitely a compelling way to communicate the scope and drive engagement around a problem (we love that stuff around here!). It would be awesome if there was a little more info about both your testing methods and the structure of this study available on your website-- I see that folks need to sign in to "join the cause" before being given further information. Is that something that you would be able to share more transparently? You describe the actual sampling method on another comment on another note, but I think more thorough communication on your project site would be a meaningful step towards building trust with your participants (and in responding to the people who will express criticism about your results). Either way, I look forward to hearing more about how this project works!

As for the DEP, I don't have a personal contact; local groups in North Brooklyn and Gowanus interact with the DEP and the EPA through Community Advisory Groups-- these are pretty structured relationships that focus on Superfund work, so they probably wouldn't be a fit for the water fountain survey (though if you were to uncover unusually high levels of contamination in water fountains that part of Brooklyn it could point to issues in limiting the impact of the Superfund work). If you are interested in learning more about the machinations of either of those organizations in relation to community work, it might be useful to attend one to two of the meetings just to get a sense of how things happen (these would not likely provide an opportunity to introduce your project during the meeting itself, but could lead to some interesting conversations).

Thanks so much for posting about your project here! We'll be adding some resources about lead testing and advocacy work in NYC to the site in the coming weeks/months as some of our other projects evolve, so I hope you'll stick around to share more about this project and your perspective on NYC lead research in general.

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Hi @bronwen, Thanks for the comments and connections. Our testing locations are also crowdsourced by our testers, and we'd love to have a more geographically diverse group that included more fountains near the superfund areas. I'll definitely look into events out that way. I agree with you about wanting to put more nitty gritty details about testing process as well as more big picture info for the uninitiated to understand the issue with lead in drinking water, how it got there, and what the health effects are. We just finished the website, webforms, and backend infrastructure with a small group of us working nights and weekends since about this time last year, but we certainly have improvements and goals for the future. In brief, our testing utilizes a standard 2-bottle [1st draw - flush - 2nd draw] sample collection that is then tested by a lab certified by the NYC DEP. Thanks again for your comments and looking forward to learning more about your lead testing work.

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