Nearly 400 schools across the Garden State have tested positive for lead in their drinking water supplies, according to a new report.

Chris Sturm, managing director for policy and water at New Jersey Future, said that means at least one outlet tested positive for lead, at each, citing state data. The schools were located all over New Jersey — "urban, suburban and rural.”

She said all public schools, charter schools and publicly funded child care centers in New Jersey were required to test their drinking water outlets for lead by July 12, under a state law adopted last year.

David Saenz, a spokesman for the Department of Education, said updated data collected from school districts shows 397 schools in New Jersey have reported positive lead tests for their drinking water, and additional reports are expected to be added to that total until Sept. 29.

A positive test is considered any amount of lead higher than 15 parts per billion, a standard established by the federal Environmental Protection Agency.

Saenz said if a school gets a positive lead reading from a drinking water outlet in its building, it's required to do several things.

“One is to present the information to their local board, two is to post the information on their website, and three is to notify the New Jersey Department of Education," he said.

When there is a positive lead test, he said “remediation is on the school district. Once they identify the issue, they have to create a remediation program.”

He said remediation can include several options, including “fixing the actual spouts of where the water is coming from, providing bottled water — but those decision are made at the local district level.”

Strum said her organization and others believe no level of lead in drinking water is safe, so there are ongoing discussions about lowering the EPA threshold.

In the meantime, she said, New Jersey Future is pleased the state has required this testing and “the fact that results have to be posted online means parents in every school district in the state can go on the school district’s website and see what the testing results are.”

She said schools appear to be doing a good job of reporting any lead found in their drinking water outlets, and what steps will be taken to remediate the situation.

She added New Jersey Future is recommending the Department of Education develop an electronic information submission system “with clearly defined fields for the different kinds of data, so they can tally the results and make them available statewide.”

Strum also said New Jersey Future believes the state should get “a good handle on the extent of the problem in poor school districts that may need help with remediation.”

She said students in Camden have been drinking bottled water for over a decade because the school district can’t afford to upgrade the pipes in its buildings.

Strum also said districts should be required to specify in their reporting where a drinking water outlet that tests positive for lead is located in the school building, because while the sink in a janitor’s closet would not pose much of a threat, a drinking fountain next to the gym definitely would.

New Jersey Future is also calling on the state to develop an informational campaign to remind parents and pregnant women of the dangers of lead, and do more to address the statewide problem of older pipes that may be leaching lead into the homes of New Jersey residents.

You can contact reporter David Matthau at David.Matthau@townsquaremedia.com.

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