Source: North Jersey.com
The majority of the districts surveyed by Environment New Jersey had at least one fountain or sink where lead readings exceeded the level set by the Environmental Protection Agency that requires districts to take some action.
The report comes as the state’s deadline to test water in schools ended last week. The Trenton-based group contacted 70 school districts in Bergen County for the information, but was provided complete testing results from only 47 districts.
“It shows that the problem is pervasive, that it hits all different kinds of districts,” said Doug O’Malley, executive director of Environment New Jersey. “Bergen is the most populous county in the state, and it’s a microcosm of New Jersey, because you have wealthy areas, middle-class suburbs and urban areas.”
In most cases, lead contamination does not come from water suppliers, but rather from old pipes and plumbing fixtures.
Experts say there should be no lead at all in drinking water because it is harmful to human health even at low exposure levels and accumulates in the body over time. The American Academy of Pediatrics advocates for immediately addressing the problem if readings in schools go above 1 part per billion.
Overall, the lead levels averaged about 5 to 6 parts per billion per district. About 10 percent of the fountains and sinks in the report had lead levels above 15 parts per billion.
Of the 47 districts, 35 had at least one reading above 15 parts per billion. Eight of the 10 schools in Ridgewood had at least one lead reading above the federal standard. Many school districts have already shut down water fountains, replaced pipes and plumbing fixtures or installed filters to reduce the levels.
“This is not the first time we’ve tested, but each time something comes up in one of our 100-year-old buildings,” said Dr. Wayne Yankus, the school doctor for Ridgewood. “The district acts quickly, because this is one exposure we can control.”
State Sen. Bob Gordon, D-Fair Lawn, said the state needs to give districts more money to replace their lead pipes, although he is unsure where the anticipated tens of millions of dollars needed for Bergen County alone would come from.
“These initial results show that we need a more robust response and we need a state and federal action that focuses on both testing and remediation,” Gordon said of the Environment New Jersey report.
The state requires all districts to conduct follow-up water testing at least every six years. They must make results publicly available and send written notices to parents if elevated lead levels are found.
“No lead is good lead,” said Yankus, a pediatrician. “We want to reduce the exposure to a toxic substance that will have an impact for a lifetime.”