City admits to ‘cheating’ methods for residential lead testing

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — The city of Buffalo has been using so-called water testing “cheats” when testing homes for levels of lead for years, according to The Guardian.

The article, which appeared in The Guardian on Thursday, counts Buffalo among some of the worst violators of so called “cheats” in testing residential water for safe lead levels.

Those cheats provide results that show lower levels of lead in water than their actually is.

The city’s water board says: We were just following federal protocol.

“We have been following the rules and been in compliance since the start of our program in the early 90s,” said Buffalo Water Board Chairman O.J. McFoy.

It turns out, those rules allowed testers to skirt the rules of collecting samples — right from the tap

The EPA allowed testers to remove aerators from spouts before running water, which can reduce lead content. Buffalo testers were told to run water slowly, which causes less lead to be dislodged from pipes. And they were ordered to pre-flush pipes, so as to clear them of any contaminants.

In other words, testers were permitted to cheat the system.

“I still view them as cheats regardless of whether they were allowed under previous regulations,” said SUNY Distinguished Professor Joseph Gardella, Jr. “There cheats because they’re not an accurate sampling.”

That’s far more complicated and involved than someone just looking to quench their thirst, according to

“They just turn on the water fill up the glass and drink it,” Gardella, Jr. said.

Buffalo Water Board Chairman OJ McFoy said they were just following the rules.

“Thirty-three of the 43 respondents were doing it because 33 out of the 43 didn’t know,” McFoy said. “It wasn’t’ clearly and widely distributed.”

But they are now.

In February, the EPA released new testing procedures, which eliminated the so-called cheats. That, according to McFoy, won’t change the results.

“We believe we have an excellent source water,” he said. “And we couple that with some additional inhibitors, and we continue to maintain that we are doing an excellent job in our testing.”

That’s not necessarily true, according to Gardella, Jr.

“I have every reason to believe that it’s quite possible that such data will increase, so levels of lead will increase,” he said. “But a lot depends on where the samples are being taken from.

“Scientists are skeptics so I’m skeptical until the numbers are in, you shouldn’t predict.”

The EPA released a statement late Friday:

“EPA indicated in a memo to states on February 29, 2016 that “removal or cleaning of aerators during the collection of tap samples could mask the added contribution of lead at tap” and “pre-stagnation flushing may potentially lower the lead levels as compared to when it is not practiced.” EPA also issued official guidance on the removal of aerators in a 2006 memo. A 2008 letter on pre-stagnation flushing was directed to an individual water utility and was not framed as national guidance. The Lead and Copper Rule does not prohibit practices of pre-stagnation flushing and removal of aerators, but EPA’s February 2016 memorandum reflects the agency’s recommendations on these practices. EPA does not maintain data on the prevalence of these sampling practices as it does for violations and exceedances. Sampling practices are monitored by states, which are given primacy under the Safe Drinking Water Act.” provides commenting to allow for constructive discussion on the stories we cover. In order to comment here, you acknowledge you have read and agreed to our Terms of Service. Commenters who violate these terms, including use of vulgar language or racial slurs, will be banned. Please be respectful of the opinions of others. If you see an inappropriate comment, please flag it for our moderators to review. Note: Comments containing links are not allowed.

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