NJ’s lead problem: 17 more schools find contaminated water this week

by Dan Alexander, originally posted on April 21, 2016


More than a dozen additional school buildings across the state this week were found to have high levels of lead in their water, adding to an ever-growing list of schools facing this problem.

One school in Bridgewater had a faucet spewing water with lead levels 10 times higher than what the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention considers acceptable.

The exact number of schools with contaminated water is not known because the state does not require schools supplied by a utility company to test their water. Utility companies test their own supply, but lead often leaches into the water when it sits in old pipes and fixtures of buildings.

Even school districts that voluntarily test their faucets and water fountains are not required to report their findings to the state, New Jersey 101.5 revealed this month, meaning that parents and communities have to rely on school officials to notify the public — which doesn’t always happen in a timely fashion. Paterson, for example, didn’t reveal contamination it found last year at 14 schools until this school year.

A recently proposed law requiring all public and private schools to periodically test and report results passed an Assembly committee earlier this month. A similar proposal was introduced in the state Senate.

Even without a law, school districts have been rushing to test their buildings in recent weeks following a renewed concern and growing national attention to the issue of lead contamination, which can cause a host of behavioral and developmental disabilities in young children.

In New Jersey, most lead contamination cases are the result of exposure to lead-based paint in old homes. But districts, many of which have schools close to a century old, have been finding unacceptable levels of lead in water used for drinking and cooking food.

Water fountains in six public schools in Leonia tested positive, officials said this week. Superintendent Joanne T. Megargee said high levels of lead were detected in six of the 98 fountains that were tested.

Bridgewater-Raritan Regional said high lead levels were detected at John F. Kennedy Primary School and Wade Administration Building. Water was shut off at both buildings and filters will be installed, officials said.

Earlier in the week, Princeton reported high level of lead and copper in the water from a sink in a staff room. The district shut off the tap and installed a water cooler in the room.

The West Windsor-Plainsboro Regional School District reported high lead levels in five schools: Village, Dutch and Maurice Hawk elementary schools, Grover Middle and High School South.

Hamilton school officials this week informed parents about lead contamination at a single water fountain at Alexander elementary school. Earlier this month, the district had revealed preliminary results indicating high levels at two other schools: Greenwood and Morgan.

The schools are just the latest in the state to discover high levels of lead in their water supply. Last month, Newark discovered contaminated water in at least 30 school buildings. Dozens of other schools across the state also have had similar discoveries.

According to the New Jersey Department of Health, young children are at the highest risk to develop health problems from lead. Lead pipes, lead soldering and leaded brass faucets are the most common sources.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported the names of the Hamilton schools that registered high levels of lead. The three schools in Hamilton with preliminary results showing unacceptable levels are Greenwood, Morgan and Alexander.


Learn More