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Does State’s Solution to Lead-Contaminated Schools End with Bottled Water

Monday, February 6, 2017   (0 Comments)
Share | 02/03/17

The state has long recognized that it has a problem with lead in its drinking water, but finding and funding a fix is proving to be no simple task, legislators were told yesterday.

Lead has been found in water in public schools across New Jersey, including Newark and Camden where students have been drinking bottled water for more than a decade. Earlier this month, high levels of lead forced Englewood Hospital to switch supplies.

With New Jersey facing an estimated $8 billion price tag to fix its drinking water infrastructure, the task force is examining steps that could be taken to address such problems as polluted water supplies; leaking water mains that lose up to 30 percent of the supply before it ever gets to the customer; and an aging system, much of it more than a century old.

Lead, a potent contaminant that can cause severe health problems in young children and pregnant women, emerged as a national issue two years ago when Flint, MI, found out its residents had been drinking water with high levels of lead for many months.

It grabbed lawmakers’ and the Christie administration’s attention when 30 Newark schools were found to have unsafe levels of the substance in their faucets and outlets last March. It led to a new state requirement to test for lead in water at all public schools, state-funded daycare centers, and charters.

About half of some 800 facilities have finished testing their water for lead, according to the state Department of Education. More than 130 schools were found to have unsafe levels of the contaminant from at least one outlet, according to New Jersey Future.

In response, districts have been told cut off access to contaminated supplies and switch to bottled water. A more permanent solution is left to the districts, according to Jim Palmer, executive director of the Office of Project Management. “There’s no money we’ve got that is set aside for remediation,’’ he said.

Department of Environmental Protection officials said they expect to have approximately $33 million to hand out in loans and other programs to help communities address lead in their water. The funds would be used to replace the service lines and other fixtures inside buildings where lead in the plumbing causes the contamination of otherwise clean supplies.

About 10 percent of the public water systems have been found to exceed the federal action level for lead in drinking water, according to Dan Kennedy, an assistant DEP commissioner. They are under so-called action plans to bring levels of the contaminant down below the recommended level, he said.

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