Under legislation proposed earlier this month, every school in New Jersey, whether public or private, would have to test its water immediately for lead and at a certain interval to be determined under the law. The legislation comes after the water crisis in Flint, Michigan as well as reports of lead contamination in Newark schools and reports that children in 11 municipalities in New Jersey had lead levels higher than that of students in Flint.
Assembly bill A-3539 (Muoio), would require that all public and non-public schools in the state conduct periodic, uniform testing for lead in the drinking water supply, utilizing the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) guidelines, which are significantly stricter than the state’s. Under the bill, immediate testing would be required upon the bill’s enactment.
Additional testing would then occur at least once every five years. If elevated levels of lead are found during any test, the school must immediately stop using the water supply, notify parents, teachers and school administrators, contact the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and begin remediation measures. The notification would include a summary of the test results, a description of the remediation actions being taken, contact information for the school in question and, if necessary, information on how to access blood level testing. All schools would be required to keep two copies of the tests: one on file with the DEP and one in their administrative offices.
In comparison, S-2022 (Sweeney), would require school districts to test water twice a year moving forward – once within 30 days of the state of school in the fall and again six months later. Districts would be required to notify parents, as well as the state education and environmental commissioners, of the results; to immediately provide an alternate source of drinking water if tests reveal elevated lead levels; and to install a filter or water-treatment device on all drinking fountains and sinks used to prepare food in buildings that have been flagged. Districts would also be required to submit a list of schools with lead pipes, solder or fixtures to the education commissioner.
Senate president Stephen Sweeney and Sens. Ronald Rice and Teresa Ruiz, sponsors of the Senate bill, have also proposed appropriating $3 million to the Department of Education to reimburse districts for testing. Another $20 million from the Clean Energy Fund would pay districts for installing water filters. Funding for additional remediation has yet to be identified. Sweeney also suggested municipalities tap into the state’s Environmental Infrastructure Trust, which provides low-interest loans to government agencies for water projects, including replacing old pipes that are a common source of contaminated water.