Middlesex County News

Lead Tests Reveal 4 Contaminated Water Sources in New Brunswick Public Schools

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NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ — Four water sources in various city schools have been shut down and marked for remediation after testing positive for lead above the legal limit, according to results posted by New Brunswick's public school district.

The tests occurred throughout the district over two days in late June, scrutinizing 260 sources of drinking water, according to a note from Superintendent Aubrey Johnson. That encompassed 80 more sources than the district tested last year, which showed 14 faucets were in need of lead remediation.

The most recent tests unearthed the unacceptable presence of lead in a kitchen sink at McKinley Community School, a bubbler in a classroom at Lincoln Elementary School and a hallway water fountain in both Woodrow Wilson Elementary School and New Brunswick Middle School, according to the rest results.

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Lead is a poison that can cause short-term health problems and long-term illnesses, like heart disease, according to public health authorities. It may enter drinking water supplies when pipes or fixtures corrode, especially in older buildings, according to the government.

Federal regulations limit the legal presence of lead in water to 15 parts per billion.

Each of the contaminated water sources found this summer in New Brunswick's school district registered lead levels above that number. They ranged from 32.8 parts per billion at McKinley—or double the legal limit—to 477 parts per billion at Lincoln. The Woodrow Wilson fountain showed lead at 65.2 parts per billion, while the middle school's fountain hit 186 parts per billion, according to the results.

The majority of the 260 water sources had lead levels below or near 1 part per billion, which is below the legal maximum, according to the results.

“The official results are extremely positive,” Johnson wrote in a letter to the school community. “Each of these four sources were immediately removed from service and will be remediated as quickly as possible. Then, they'll be re-tested and will not return to service until acceptable readings are recorded.”

The Mountainside-based LEW Corporation performed the tests on June 27 and 28, and the samples were analyzed on July 10, according to district documents.

LEW recommended the district immediately stop using the water sources. Then, the contractor suggested, it should conduct “second-draw” samples, which could help to pinpoint the source of contamination.

Prior to the June lead tests, the district's facilities director, spoke with TAPinto New Brunswick about the initiative. He said the second round of testing of contaminated sources typically shows whether the lead is coming from deep within the pipe system or in the actual fixture, like a faucet.

“It helps you guarantee at the end that you're clean at the source,” he said.

The water-testing service also recommended that the district re-test these sources after they're remediated.

What's more, the contractor wrote, is that the district should eventually test a number of water sources that weren't included in this round because they weren't working at the time of the tests.

Water testing focused on fountains, kitchen equipment, ice machines and sinks in all of the district's schools, according to school documents.

This is the second consecutive year in which New Brunswick Public Schools undertook a districtwide hunt for lead in drinking water. School officials have noted that the state requires such lead testing to occur once every six years.

But after the lead crisis that gripped Flint, Michigan, and effectively cut off the impoverished community from safe drinking water, school leaders in New Brunswick opted to take a closer look at their water, LaDolce said. What the district found were 14 contaminated water sources, most of which were due to decaying brass in the fixtures, he said.

The Board of Education then decided to fix those problems, along with 10 other water sources that tested positive for lead, albeit at levels below the legal limit, LaDolce said. That decision came amid great public concern over the safety of drinking water in city schools.

After that campaign, those water sources then showed up clean, he said.

The district then found it prudent to test district water sources again—and that's what produced the results published today.

“The hope would be that everything comes back and is zero,” LaDolce said before the most recent tests took place. “That would be nice, but the reality is, it could be a moving target.”

Water pressure changes, use in other parts of the school or city, structural and chemical issues could change the lead status of water from a given source over time, he said.

Johnson, the superintendent, suggested that anyone with concerns regarding lead poisoning speak with their health care providers. He also noted that “children are far more likely to come in contact with lead at home than they are at their school.”

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