New Jersey Elementary Schools Lower Lead Level in Drinking Water

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), working with the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection and three New Jersey school districts, has successfully lowered lead in drinking water at elementary schools in Union City, Atlantic City and Weehawken, New Jersey to below EPA-recommended levels. Sampling by EPA initially found elevated lead levels in drinking water at 28 of the 343 school drinking outlets sampled. Parents, teachers and school staff were kept informed throughout the process.

Lead is a toxic metal that can cause damage to a child’s ability to learn and a range of health damage in adults. Even at low levels, lead in children can cause I.Q. deficiencies, reading and learning disabilities, impaired hearing, reduced attention spans, hyperactivity and other behavior problems. Lead exposure can also cause health problems in pregnant women and harm fetuses. The greatest exposure to lead comes from swallowing or breathing in dust from lead-based paint, but lead in drinking water can cause a variety of health problems. Lead is rarely found in source water, but it can enter tap water through the corrosion of lead pipes, solder and plumbing fixtures that contain lead.

“An unhealthy school environment is a barrier to learning,” said EPA Regional Administrator Judith A. Enck. “With so many children exposed to lead-based paint in their homes, it is especially important to reduce any additional lead that could enter their growing bodies through drinking water. EPA worked closely with NJDEP and the three school districts to identify the lead problem and make sure that the health of students in the affected schools was protected.”

Since the late 1990’s, EPA has been working with school districts to implement voluntary lead reduction strategies. The program, known since 2006 as the 3Ts (Training, Testing, and Telling) Lead in Drinking Water Program, instructs school districts on how to test for lead in drinking water, provides guidance on reporting results to parents, students and staff, and outlines strategies to correct problems if found.

In June 2010, EPA tested drinking water outlets for lead at nine Union City schools and the day care facility in Union City High School. Of the 166 outlets tested, 17 were found to be dispensing water that contained lead above EPA-recommended levels. The district turned off the outlets and took actions to remediate the sources of lead, including the replacement and installation of filters in the outlets and the cleaning of aerators. The outlets remained out of service pending re-testing by NJDEP in August 2010 and February 2011 to determine if the remediation has been successful. The February results found lead levels above EPA-recommended levels at two outlets. The Union City School District performed additional remediation this past summer, and a final round of testing in August found that both had been brought under EPA-recommended levels for lead.

In June 2010, EPA also tested drinking water outlets for lead in all three schools in the Weehawken school district. Of the 34 outlets tested, results showed three outlets dispensing water that contained lead above EPA-recommended levels. One outlet was permanently turned off and two received new fixtures. Following remediation, the two outlets were re-tested and results indicated that both had been brought under EPA-recommended levels for lead.

In June 2011, EPA tested drinking water outlets for lead at nine Atlantic City schools and the day care facility at Atlantic City High School. Of the 145 outlets tested, eight were found to be dispensing water that contained lead above EPA-recommended levels. The eight outlets were immediately turned off, with seven permanently disconnected. For the remaining outlet, a kitchen sink at Chelsea Heights School, the school district ran a brand new line to the sink from another part of the school. Re-test sample results in September 2011 indicated lead levels from this sink outlet to be below EPA’s recommended levels. The outlet has since been put back into use.

The Union City and Atlantic City school districts plan to engage in a long-term lead monitoring program that will incorporate schools in the districts that have not yet been tested for lead in drinking water.

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