NJ’s lead problem: Hamilton schools detect high levels in drinking water
HAMILTON — School district officials on Thursday turned off all water fountains at one township elementary school, and turned off a single fountain at another, after high levels of lead were detected in the drinking water.
Parents of students at William B. Morgan Elementary School learned Friday in a letter from the principal that the school would give out bottled water as a result of the preliminary test results.
Officials said they'd order water coolers for the building and said all food would be prepared at another building, even though tests results so far have not revealed high levels of lead in kitchen faucet water.
A single water fountain also was turned off at Greenwood Elementary School after preliminary test results revealed high levels from that one fountain, according to the principal’s letter Friday to parents at that school.
The two letters did not say how high the lead levels are, but even the smallest amounts can reduce the IQ of children, Steven Marcus, executive director of the New Jersey Poison Information & Education System, said in an Associated Press report Saturday.
The school district's decision to test the water was made just before spring break, according to the principals. The district's website posted copies of these two letters and it was not clear whether other district schools had been tested. Officials could not be reached for comment Saturday.
While waiting for final results, officials took action at these two schools “in order to take every precautionary measure,” according to Morgan principal Regina McIntyre’s letter.
The two schools are just the latest in the state to discover high levels of lead in their water supply. Last month, Newark discovered contaminated water in at least 30 school buildings. Dozens of other schools across the state also have had similar discoveries as a result of testing prompted by a growing public concern over lead in water.
New Jersey does not require school districts to test their water for lead — a toxin that can cause behavioral and developmental disabilities in children. Even the smallest amounts of lead can reduce the IQ of children, Steven Marcus, executive director of the New Jersey Poison Information & Education System, told The Associated Press.
Almost all school children, however, get blood tests for lead exposure. Much of the lead exposure in New Jersey is due to lead-based paint in older homes. But older buildings, particularly those built before 1986, when federal law banned new lead plumbing, also are at risk for lead in drinking water.
Morgan, which has 350 students in kindergarten through 5th grade, was built in 1957. Greenwood, which has 262 students in the same grades, was built in 1917.
Records obtained by New Jersey 101.5 show that the district has schools that are even older.
Klockner Elementary School and Kuser Elementary School were built in 1908.
Mercerville Elementary School was built in 1911.
Yardville Heights Elementary School was built in 1917.
Lalor Elementary School was built in 1927.
Sayen Elementary School was built in 1955.
Yardville Elementary School was built in 1938.
Senate President Stephen Sweeney last month introduced legislation that would require all school districts to test for lead.
Just 200 school districts in New Jersey are required to test because they run on well water, the Associated Press reported this week.
State Environmental Protection Agency water-testing records show that nearly two dozen schools and daycare centers have had elevated lead levels of at least 15 parts per billion detected since 2012:
- Conley Elementary School - Bethlehem, Hunterdon
- Black River Middle School – Chester Township, Morris
- One Love Daycare and Preschool – Buena, Atlantic
- Upper Township Middle School - Cape May
- Buena Regional High School in - Atlantic
- Collings Lake Elementary School – Williamstown, Atlantic
- High Mountain Road School – Franklin Lakes, Bergen
- Newcomb Middle School – Pemberton, Burlington
- Cumberland County Technical Education Center - Bridgeton
- TLC Daycare Center – Sewell, Gloucester
- Delaware Valley Regional High School - Hunterdon
- East Amwell School - Hunterdon
- Lawrenceville School - Mercer
- Princeton Friends School - Mercer
- Bais Leah – Howell, Monmouth
- Jefferson Township High School - Morris
- Upper Greenwood Elementary School – West Milford, Passaic
- Christian Life-Day Care - Passaic
- Alloway Township Elementary School - Salem
- Little Gem Academy - Franklin, Somerset
- Green Apple Academy – Green, Sussex
- Hopatcong Head Start - Sussex
Other districts have known about lead contamination for years. Schools in Camden, for example, have been using bottled water for nearly 15 years. And Paterson discovered contamination at 14 schools last year, but took heat for not informing parents until recently.
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.