Earlier this year, the results of annual water quality testing in specific New Jersey public schools were released to the public. Some of these results revealed that staff and children had been exposed to water contaminated with dangerous levels of lead. Up to that point, the testing of water for lead contamination was done voluntarily and the result were rarely released to the public.
As this issue continued to be a headline news story, local officials took action to protect human health from lead exposure. The New Jersey State Board of Education has issued requirements for the immediate testing for lead in drinking water in all schools within the State of New Jersey. This includes: public school districts, privately run schools, charter schools, renaissance schools, jointure commissions, educational services commissions, approved private schools for students with disabilities acting under contract to provide educational services on behalf of New Jersey public school districts, State-funded early childcare facilities and receiving schools.
What are the Requirements for Initial Testing?
Previously, water quality testing was optional so this may be a new, unfamiliar process for these institutions. In order to be complaint with the new requirements, Districts should be aware that they must conduct lead sampling and analysis at all drinking water outlets within one year of the new regulations. Drinking water outlets are defined as any location at a school facility, other facility, or temporary facility where water is expected to be used for consumption or food preparation. A few things to keep in mind for this process are that:
- sampling shall be conducted in accordance with a Lead Sampling Plan and with a Quality Assurance Project Plan (QAPP);
- analysis shall be conducted by a certified laboratory; and
- within 24 hours after reviewing and verifying the final results the board of education shall make the test results of all water samples publicly available at the facility and on their website.
If any results exceed the permissible lead action level then written notification to the parents/guardians of all students attending the facility as well as the Department of Education must be made.
Exemption from Initial Testing
Some school districts may apply for an exemption from the initial testing if they can demonstrate that it complied with or exceeded the testing requirements within five years prior to the effective date of the regulation.
If a district receives an exemption, they are still required to make the results from prior testing available for public inspection at the school facility and on the district board of education’s website. Additionally, they will need to conduct testing within six years of the prior testing.
Requirements for Additional Testing
For all facilities, additional testing will be necessary within six years following the initial testing and every six years thereafter. All district boards of education will have to test all drinking water outlets on this schedule. In addition, all district boards of education will sample for lead after the replacement of any drinking water outlet or any other alteration to plumbing or service lines that may impact lead levels at the outlet. After the required testing has occurred, each district will submit an annual statement of assurance to the Department stating that lead testing was performed in accordance with the new standards. The district must also provide notifications consistent with this subchapter and that alternate drinking water continues to be available to all students and staff.
Reimbursement of Costs
The necessary testing for lead in water may not mean an additional cost for the district. Under this regulations, all boards of education are eligible to be reimbursed for the water supply testing and analysis conducted. To receive reimbursement, the board of education shall complete and submit to the Department of Education a reimbursement application (the Department will make the reimbursement application available on its website). Nonpublic schools choosing to conduct testing may submit a reimbursement application to the Department-the approval of which is subject to available funds.