TRENTON, N.J. — Lead testing is coming to all New Jersey schools, amid nationwide contamination concerns and questions surrounding the accountability of school districts who may have failed to report test results to parents.
Governor Chris Christie made the announcement this afternoon and asked state legislators to add $10 million to the fiscal year 2017 budget to pay for it.
In addition to annual testing, Christie is ordering all public schools: "to post all test results and immediately notify parents if testing shows elevated levels of lead. Schools must also provide parents with a description of any steps the school is taking to ensure safe drinking water will remain available to all of their students,” stated the Governor.
After high levels of lead were reported in Newark Public Schools, it was discovered that other districts had also tested above the federal limit for lead, but some delayed telling parents about it for years.
PIX11 exposed how water fountains in Elizabeth Public Schools had tested as high as 33 times the federal limit for lead in 2013, but the district did not notify parents until March 2016.
Just a month ago, Gov. Christie said that he did not want the state to get overly-involved in mandating schools test for lead.
“The primary lead concern in New Jersey has been and remains the outdated lead-based paint in our old housing stocks, not water sources,” he stated in April.
But after parents voiced concerns, including on PIX11, the Governor said he felt compelled to take action.
“I think they should let the parents know because our kids are drinking this water,” said Maria Tavares, a mom from Elizabeth.
"I think that's a fair observation,” the Governor said today, "we’re happy to regulate that and say, you’re going to do the testing to make sure you meet the regulations that already exist, which say you have to provide safe drinking water. And if you’re doing the testing, you should let parents know about it since they’re the ones paying for it."
When asked, the Governor said lead exposure testing on Newark children, who may have been drinking from contaminated water fountains, have come back “fairly normal”.
He also assuaged any concerns of widespread lead contamination in New Jersey, like what was seen in Flint, Michigan.
"The risk of lead contamination is not in our water sources, but in some aging pipes and support systems delivering water through fountains and faucets,” he said.
The state is also launching a public awareness campaign about the dangers of lead exposure.
Statewide testing on public schools drinking water will begin during the next school year. The state legislature still needs to vote to approve the additional $10 million for next year’s state budget.