Lead Water Testing in NJ:
Is Your School Drinking Water Safe?
We all want to believe our children are drinking safe water while at school or in day care – but how do you really know? What’s the protocol for ensuring New Jersey school water sources are lead-free and safe to drink?
That’s where state regulations on water testing in New Jersey come into play.
Back in 2019, both the New Jersey Department of Education (for schools) and New Jersey Department of Children and Families (NJDCF) (for child care centers) took a strong stance on strengthening “Safe Drinking Water Regulations” in schools. Now, all state schools and child care centers are required to test for lead every three years.
What sparked this push for more frequent testing? Well, in 2015, it was found that three schools’ water in Flint, Michigan was contaminated with toxic levels of lead. This served as a serious wake-up call, and since then, the state of New Jersey has taken water testing more seriously.
In August of 2020, the New Jersey State Board of Education adopted further amendments to the state regulations for lead testing in drinking water. All districts will be required to test for lead in drinking water outlets in the same three-year testing cycle – this year and then again in the 2024-2025 school year. Similarly, testing for water in child care centers is required prior to their license renewals every three years.
Let’s talk more about what the schools will be looking for and how they will evaluate lead levels with water tests.
How Does Lead Get in School Drinking Water?
Lead is a common metal found in many kinds of environments. Although the highest risk for human exposure to lead typically comes from lead-based paints and dust or soil, lead can also be found in food, pottery, cosmetics, and yes, our drinking water.
Lead rarely enters water supplies from rivers and/or lakes. Typically, it appears as the result of corrosion in materials throughout plumbing and water distribution systems. These materials include:
- Lead-based solder
- Lead from brass and chrome
- Lead used in pipes
As water sits in lead pipes or other plumbing fixtures, the materials can break down, leaving lead in water that is then distributed to our drinking sources.
This means that even if a public water supplier is following all of the right rules and meeting state public safety standards, lead can still enter the drinking water through hidden spots in the plumbing system.
Nowadays, water facilities are expected to use brass fixtures and faucets that are at least 99.75% lead-free. However, prior to 2014, a fixture could have held as much as 8% lead content and still have been labeled as “lead-free.”
That’s why it’s so important to keep up with lead testing. What was once considered safe, years ago, may now be contributing to unsafe water for children and adults alike. As our understanding of lead and its repercussions evolves, so do our mandates for compliance and regulation.
The Health Concerns of Lead in Drinking Water
When ingested in high enough quantities, lead can cause serious health problems, including long-term developmental difficulties in children. According to the New Jersey Department of Health, lead poisoning in children can contribute to:
- Behavior and learning problems
- Slowed growth
- Hearing challenges
- Lower IQs
How Do You Conduct a Water Test for Lead?
When a school tests for lead in drinking water, they will need to test all of the drinking water outlets. It’s best to have a professional take a sample, then send it to a New Jersey certified testing lab via an EPA-approved method.
These water samples should be taken professionally in a two-step process:
- A sample is taken directly from the water outlet/fixture (i.e. a faucet)
- A sample is also taken upstream of the outlet/fixture (i.e. pipe or valve)
This process ensures that experts will be able to determine the source of the lead, should high levels be registered during the testing. Schools should use professional drinking water sampling services to obtain and transfer these testing samples.
After the water has been tested, the laboratory will provide the school with a copy of the results. This can then be included in the school district’s Quality Assurance Program Plan. For child care centers, the laboratory reports are provided to the Office of Licensing in the NJDCF.
What Happens If Lead Is Found in the Water?
Within 24 hours of the laboratory’s shared results, the school board is required to make the results publicly available on the district’s website. Additionally, written notification should be immediately sent to the New Jersey Department of Education and the parents/guardians of every child attending school in the district.
Not only should this notification detail the amount of lead found in the water, but it should also share possible health effects from lead ingestion and symptoms that parents/guardians should look for in their children.
The school must then take pressing action to remediate the affected outlet and/or provide other methods for drinking water within the school. If lead was found in water that is not used for drinking, such as in showers or hand-washing sinks, it’s the school district’s responsibility to make students, faculty, parents, and staff aware.
For child care centers, it’s the responsibility of the child care center owner to remediate the problem and to resample, and cease using the water if there’s an ongoing problem.
Lead cannot be absorbed via the skin, but it is still important that everyone understand where lead is present and what water is safe to drink (and what is not).
Professional School District Water Testing in NJ
At Paul Sakson, we pride ourselves on helping to create safe environments for children throughout New Jersey – and that includes assessing the drinking water in all of our schools and child care centers.
Our team has more than 25 years of experience consulting within the childcare industry and schools. Alongside drinking water testing, we also offer:
- Environmental site assessments
- Indoor air testing
- Radon testing
- Soil testing
- Asbestos inspections
- Lead-based paint assessments
Unlike other environmental assessment companies, we specialize in protecting the environments where our children grow and learn. We work with public schools, private institutions, daycares, and other properties to ensure total environmental compliance.