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Buffalo, NY: Did Someone Poison the Water Hole?

Buffalo, NY: Did Someone Poison the Water Hole?

Just how safe is the water in Buffalo, NY? That’s the question asked by a recent investigation by The Guardian into lead testing practices in some of America’s largest cities. The issue has become a major concern across the United States following devastating cases of water-based lead poisoning in Flint, Michigan.

Buffalo Tricks

The Guardian investigation found that 33 large American cities – including Buffalo, NY – were using a the same water testing ‘cheats’ that were used in Flint before the public health crisis and resulting arrests of water authority workers. In Buffalo, the water utility uses three of the most common ‘cheats:’ pre-flushing water pipes, removing water spout aerators, and running water slowly. All three can result in lower testing results or avoid detecting lead all together.

Lead is a naturally-occurring element that is toxic to humans. According to the World Health Organization, it can impact brain development and result in reduced ability to learn, behavioral challenges, and poor educational attainment. In short, it’s a toxin whose effects are felt throughout the rest of an individual’s life, with social implications ranging from decreased economic growth and increased public health expenditures.

Buffalo’s water infrastructure is old, and lead pipes were commonly used when the network was first installed. The city tests approximately 60 homes each year for lead; a search by Investigative Post found that the number of homes with water-based lead from 2005-2014 was insufficient to trigger the ‘action level’ of detection in 10% of homes. With the Buffalo Water Authority using these testing ‘cheats’ reported by The Guardian, this result may be called into question.

The Buffalo Water Authority should at least be commended for releasing the requested records (only 53% of water authorities did so), and even more for committing to changing its testing protocols following this investigation. For more information, residents should contact the Buffalo Water Authority at 716-847-1065.

Testing Tricks


Three Cheats


Buffalo Tricks


Research Consultant

Aaron Krolikowski is an independent research consultant based in Buffalo, NY, USA. Working globally, he explores the intersection of technology, development, and public service provision.

1 Comment
  • Mark
    June 2, 2016 at 10:34 pm

    Thanks for sharing this information Aaron. Hopefully it will prompt real action from the BWA.

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