New report finds half of NJ’s drinking water could be unsafe

On May 3, NJEA Lobbyist Anna Hanzes testified before the State Board of Education on the proposed readoption of measures that would require lead testing, greater transparency, and remediation in schools.

“Requiring testing was an important first step in protecting our students and staff,” Hanzes testified. “Schools in both suburban and urban districts have tested positive for lead in drinking water and include Bridgewater-Raritan, Cherry Hill, Denville, Ewing, Lawrenceville, New Brunswick, Paterson, Parsippany-Troy Hills, Princeton, Trenton and West Windsor-Plainsboro.  As more school districts complete testing, more are finding elevated lead levels in drinking water.

“NJEA’s priority is first, and foremost, the health and safety of students and staff.  Ensuring all schools complete testing is critical to that goal and the well-being of everyone in our schools.”

Hanzes called on the SBoE to approve NJEA’s suggested amendments to N.J.A.C. 6A:26 Educational Facilities:

  • All testing results should be reviewed promptly after receipt, and written notification of results should be provided to staff and parents immediately. The regulations should make it clearer that districts cannot wait until the testing deadline to do so.
  • It is important that staff and parents be notified when testing has been completed and informed where the results can be reviewed. Results that were elevated, but not over the limit, should also be provided, as should all supporting documentation.
  • Additionally, districts sometimes report sample results and sample locations in different documents that require cross-referencing or deciphering codes. This can be difficult to interpret for staff and parents. Using plain clear language, as well as putting results and locations in one document should be required.

“It is crucial that schools test for lead in drinking water, address remediation measures and that adequate funding is disbursed so that safe drinking water can be provided in our schools,” Hanzes said. “NJEA looks forward to further discussion with the Department and the Board regarding this important issue.”

Last year, through special adoption, the State Board of Education promulgated amendments to N.J.A.C 6A:26  to require immediate testing for lead in the drinking water of all New Jersey public school districts.  In the Fiscal Year 2017 budget, $10 million was appropriated to reimburse districts for the costs of the required testing.

Those measures are coming at a time when drinking water quality is under increasing scrutiny. The National Resources Defense Council, a nonprofit organization composed of 500 scientists, lawyers and policy advocates whose mission is to protect the environment, released a report in early May that found that half of all drinking water in New Jersey could be unsafe. Only three other states reported more people consuming drinking water that violated the federal Safe Drinking Water Act.

New Jersey ranks behind Texas, Florida, and Pennsylvania. Michigan, which made national headlines for the water crisis in Flint, did not make it into the top five.

The entire report is available at www.nrdc.org.

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