Matt Genna Matt Genna

Recently, the result of an annual water quality testing in a New Jersey public school district was released to the public. The results indicated that some schools have been using water contaminated with dangerous levels of lead. It is not clear how long children and staff have been exposed to the contaminated water, but it brings a larger issue to the surface. Right now, water quality testing in schools is not required by state or federal environmental protection agencies. While it is done voluntarily on an annual basis, the results are typically not released to the public.

How does lead get into drinking water?

Lead can enter drinking water when service pipes that contain lead corrode, especially where the water has high acidity or low mineral contents that disintegrates pipes and fixtures. Lead contamination issues are most common problem with brass or chrome plated brass fixture with lead solder. This lead solder can release significant amount of lead into the water, especially hot water, which accelerates corrosion.

What are the effects of lead ingestion?

According to the Center of Disease Control and Prevention, there is no safe lead level in children. Even low levels of lead in the blood can result in behavior and learning problems, lower IQ, hyperactivity, slowed growth, hearing problem, and anemia. The Environmental Protection Agency’s action level for lead, the threshold requiring additional action, is 15 parts per billion and drinking water in Newark’s schools ranged from 16-558 ppb. Last year in New Jersey, more than 3,000 children tested positive for lead poisoning. In 11 New Jersey communities there is a higher proportion of young children with dangerous levels of lead than in Flint, MI.

How can you find out if your water is contaminated? 

Before sampling, ask your public water system supplier for a copy of their most recent consumer confidence report – these are distributed annually. The EPA’s action level is 15 parts per billion (ppb) for lead in public water systems and 20 parts per billion (ppb) for lead in drinking water.

The EPA recommends the following sites are priority sites for testing for lead in water in schools and child care centers:

  • Drinking fountains
  • Kitchen sinks
  • Classroom combination sinks and drinking fountains
  • Home economic rooms sinks
  • Teacher’s lounge sink
  • Nurse’s office sink
  • Classroom sinks in special education classrooms
  • Any sink known to be or visibly used for consumption (ex: coffee maker or cups are nearby)

As per the EPA, outlets must be inactive for at least 6-8 hours before testing but overnight is considered ideal.