Drinking water tests reveal high lead levels in Elizabeth schools; district says filters installed

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ELIZABETH, N.J. – Documents obtained by PIX11 show that about a third of all Elizabeth school buildings where the drinking water was tested came back positive for lead during the district’s most recent testing in between April and June of 2013.

The Environmental Protection Agency mandates that lead levels in drinking water stay below .015 milligrams per liter. Drinking water fountains inside 12 Elizabeth school buildings came back with results as high as 33 times the federal limit.

Elizabeth High School water tested highest for lead, followed by Abraham Lincoln Elementary, where a water fountain tested as higher than 8 times the federal limit.

Frances Burden has a 6-year-old at Lincoln Elementary and says she plans to get her tested as a precaution.

“Take her for blood work, lab work, get blood tested," Burden said. "Make sure that her lead level isn’t over where it’s supposed to be.”

Representatives from the Elizabeth School District said they have been proactive about remediating the problem. The school district sent home a letter last month notifying parents and guardians about the testing done in 2013.

“Our district can be considered among school districts throughout the country that were proactive in its approach,” said Superintendent Olga Hugelmeyer. "Based on the test results, filters were replaced or installed as necessary to ensure the long-term sustainability of providing safe drinking water at all of our schools.”

"I think it just raised more questions than answers because you know, you tested the water 3 years ago. What happened since? How do we know it’s still safe?” Christina Moreria, another Elizabeth parent, questioned.

 Some parents say they saw the letter for the first time today, when PIX11 showed them a copy. Burden said she’s not taking any chances after her son was exposed to lead paint at a young age.

“It affected his development, a lot,” she recanted.

Parents are also on edge about lead contamination after after hearing about the crisis in Newark.

 According to the district documents, no testing was done on school sinks used for cooking water or hand washing.

School board member Jose Rodriguez told PIX11 that the State is already taking a closer look at the water in Elizabeth Schools. But he added that the district does not plan to wait around for their recommendations.

The school board has already begun discussing spot testing or potentially a system-wide water test to ensure the water’s safety.

Here is a map of all the schools that tested positive above EPA level for lead in Elizabeth in 2013: