New Jersey Future has released the first compilation done at the statewide level of the results of school districts’ tests for lead in their facilities’ drinking water. The preliminary analysis shows that lead was found in drinking water in school districts of all types and sizes, and in all geographic areas of the state.
School districts were required to test for lead in their drinking water and to post results on their websites. Those that found positive results of lead were also required to notify parents and the Department of Education, and to describe measures taken to switch off any outlet with elevated lead levels and provide alternate sources of water.
The drinking water testing results are especially significant for parents as their children begin another school year. Parents in all public and charter school districts should be able to find test results on their district’s website, along with what actions were taken to keep children safe. Although the data New Jersey Future received is incomplete, it did show that more than 300 schools in New Jersey have at least one outlet that tested positive for lead.
The report includes recommendations for things the Department of Education and Department of Environmental Protection can do to make reporting easier and more comprehensive, to educate parents and vulnerable groups on how to avoid lead in drinking water, and to provide financial and technical assistance to school districts in low-income areas for short- and long-term lead remediation measures.
New Jersey is one of the few states to require testing for lead in drinking water. Under a 2016 Board of Education rule, all districts were required to test for lead in their drinking water, and all districts with drinking outlets that tested positive for lead were required to report their findings to the Department of Education by July 13, 2017. This report represents the first statewide examination of reported test results; however, the Department of Education data is incomplete, for a variety of reasons. While all school districts were required to post the results of their testing to their websites and to inform parents and families in their district, only districts with lead-positive test results were required to submit data to the Department of Education. Hence a district’s absence in the data collected does not mean it did not test. A school district’s absence from the data also does not mean it had no lead-positive test results; several large districts, including Camden and Atlantic City, were not included in the data but have previously addressed the problem of lead in their school drinking water.
The first recommendation in the report is for more comprehensive and standardized data collection and reporting, which will ensure greater transparency at all levels and will help in determining an appropriate response to the problem.