NJ to make schools test water for lead twice as often
Gov. Phil Murphy’s administration will require public schools to test their drinking water for lead every three years, rather than every six, and create a centralized online database showing lead testing results from across the state.
The state will also prioritize remediation projects in school districts facing high lead levels when it distributes the $100 million from the Securing Our Children’s Future bond act going toward schools’ water infrastructure needs. But that probably won’t start until next spring.
“Lead contamination is not a Newark problem or an urban problem. It’s not just a Bergen County problem. … It’s not a short-term problem. It’s a problem that has been building over decades in communities up and down our state and indeed across the country," Murphy said at an event at Herbert Hoover Elementary School in Bergenfield.
Water utilities have identified 161,000 lead service lines in 104 water systems so far, through voluntary reports to the state that aren't complete. New Jersey Future mapped their locations, and Murphy plans to join the group at a Thursday event to announce a comprehensive, statewide strategy for addressing the issue.
The $500 million bond act approved by 54% of voters in the 2018 election allocates $100 million to water infrastructure. That money hasn’t been borrowed yet, and Murphy indicated that “this is money that can be raised in the spring of 2020.”
“Are folks frustrated it’s taken this long? Count me on that list,” Murphy said. “But that’s not for lack of a lot of work. I mean, literally moving heaven and earth. This is really complicated stuff.”
“It is coming,” he said. “Not as fast as we’d like, but it’s not for lack of a lot of work.”
Environmental Protection Commissioner Catherine McCabe said “there’s only maybe a couple of dozen schools right now that we know of” with lead levels high enough that action is required.
“But if you’re only testing every six years, you’re never sure until you go and test again,” McCabe said. “And you need to keep testing because these are old pipes, and the water chemistry affects what happens as the water comes in through the pipes and through the plumbing and the fixtures and the fountains that the kids are drinking out of. So we have to stay constantly vigilant.”
The new Department of Education regulations will also include enhanced enforcement measures against non-compliant school entities, such as public reporting of districts that are out of compliance, penalties imposed during the district’s state-monitoring review and investigation by the department’s Office of Fiscal Accountability and Compliance.
“When parents send their children off to school each morning, they need to feel assured that their child is going to a safe learning environment,” said Education Commissioner Lamont Repollet.
U.S. Rep. Josh Gottheimer applauded the database for lead-testing results that will be created by the state Department of Education. He said it’s too difficult currently to find out results, which districts are directed to post on their websites, though not in a standard location and without consequence if they don’t.
“Maybe it’s there, but it’s really hard to find, and that’s exactly the opposite of what a parent needs,” Gottheimer said.