NJ schools that voluntarily test for lead in water are not required to report results
HAMILTON — Parents and officials in this township’s school district are anxiously awaiting results of tests on the water flowing through the fountains and faucets of the district’s school buildings.
On Thursday, officials announced that elevated levels of lead had been found in the water at two elementary schools, prompting officials to turn off all water fountains and cease cooking food at Morgan Elementary School and to turn off a single fountain at Greenwood Elementary School.
The findings, first reported by New Jersey 101.5 on Saturday, come after dozens of other schools across the state have found dangerously high levels of the toxin in their drinking water.
But just how many other schools and districts have this problem is unknown.
First, the state does not mandate lead testing for districts connected to a utility water supply.
Moreover, the state does not require districts that voluntarily test their water to report their findings, a state Department of Environmental Protection spokesman said Monday.
Last year, Paterson discovered lead water-contamination at 14 schools but only notified parents this month.
Following news last month that at least 30 of Newark’s school buildings had high levels of lead in the water, state lawmakers proposed mandating testing of all schools.
U.S. Rep. Donald Payne, D-N.J. 10th District, and U.S. Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., meanwhile, are pushing federal legislation to require states to help school districts test for lead, which can cause severe developmental and behavioral disabilities in young children.
“Children across America are being poisoned by lead in their schools’ drinking water,” Payne said Monday in a news conference in Newark with the city’s mayor and state senator. “They are being robbed of their full potential and their basic right to safety. Meanwhile, Congress has neglected its duty to be a partner with state and local governments to crack down on lead in school drinking water.”
“This national problem demands a federal response,” Booker said. “Ensuring that schools are systematically testing for lead in drinking water and making parents and officials aware of lead's presence will help keep kids safe.”
Under state law, only schools and daycares that run on well water are required to test for lead. About two dozen and reported high levels, according to state records.
Hamilton Interim Superintendent Thomas J. Ficarra said Monday in a statement that the testing began during spring break by environmental consultant Karl & Associates. The tests will follow federal guidelines, taking two samples from all faucets in the buildings — once in the morning before the water is run through the pipes, and again after the water has flowed. Lead tends to leach into water sitting in a pipe. The water is deemed fine if the results of the first sample are within the acceptable levels.
Ficarra said the district's testing is thorough because they also are testing bathroom and janitorial sinks and outside hoses, not just drinking fountains and kitchen sinks.
"The district will immediately inform parents of that school community as soon as results are known and will continue to inform the parents as testing and reports are issued," Ficarra said.
Sergio Bichao is deputy digital editor at New Jersey 101.5. Send him news tips: Call 609-438-1015 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.