New Jersey to Require All Public Schools to Test Water for Lead

By Denisa R. Superville — May 02, 2016 2 min read
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New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie on Monday said he will require all of the state’s public schools to test their drinking water for lead and notify parents of what they are doing to ensure that the drinking water is safe.

Christie’s announcement followed calls from legislators and others for mandatory lead testing of schools’ drinking water after water fountains in 30 Newark Public Schools were shut off in March after elevated levels of lead were found in some water samples.

Since the lead-contamination crisis in Flint crept into the national headlines last year more attention is being paid to the presence of lead in school drinking water.

Districts that use municipal water sources are not required by federal law to test annually for lead. Still, with the ongoing Flint crisis, numerous districts have reported elevated levels of lead in their drinking water, and some have set up protocols for future testing and reporting.

Just last week, Chicago launched a lead-testing pilot program in which water in 28 schools would be tested to look at the possible health risks from using lead pipes, the Chicago Sun-Times reported. And in Washington state, where elevated levels of lead were recently reported in 13 schools in the Tacoma district from tests conducted between 2013 and 2016, Gov. Jay Inslee wants to find out why a state law that requires schools to test for lead in their drinking water has apparently not been followed.

The Associated Press reported that the law, passed in 2009, was never funded.

Inslee has asked the state department of health to come up with a proposal to ensure that public schools are tested for lead and other environmental health risks, including molds, the AP reported. He also asked the department of health to provide a cost estimate, according to the Associated Press.

In New Jersey, Gov. Christie is asking the legislature to approve $10 million in spending to cover the cost of water testing in approximately 3,000 schools, beginning next school year. The school districts will conduct the tests and will be reimbursed, Christie said.

“This administration has always been committed to ensuring the health, safety, and welfare of the most-vulnerable in our society, particularly our children, and that is what we will continue to do through the new lead-testing regulations and enhanced health standards I announced today,” Christie said. “We are continuing our commitment to addressing the dangers of elevated lead levels wherever they exist, using the highest testing standards available. At this point, we know the risk of lead contamination is not in our water sources, but in the aging pipes and support systems delivering water through fountains and faucets.”

Christie is also asking Education Commissioner David Hespe to require schools to immediately post test results and notify parents of the corrective measures that the schools are taking to ensure that the drinking water is safe.

Christie also wants the department of health to change its regulation to allow earlier intervention when low levels of lead are detected in children, according to the governor’s office.

The state earlier this year provided an additional $10 million for lead remediation in low- and moderate-income communities where lead paint is still found. (Lead-based paint for housing was outlawed in 1978.) New Jersey already requires universal lead screening for children ages 1 and 2.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie addresses a gathering on Monday as he announces that he will require all of the state’s schools to test for lead in water starting next school year.

--Mel Evans/AP

A version of this news article first appeared in the District Dossier blog.