Aging building infrastructures that have intake pipes with lead soldering can experience unacceptable levels of the toxic metal in their drinking water.

As a result, the New Jersey School Boards Association has expressed its support for proposed legislation requiring lead testing in each of the state’s 2,500 public schools. The bill, S-2022, sponsored by Senate President Steve Sweeney, Senate Education Committee chair M. Teresa Ruiz and Senator Ronald L. Rice, would provide $3 million in state funding to carry out the testing.

“Board of education members are extremely concerned about the quality of drinking water in the schools where their children, grandchildren and neighbors’ children spend their days,” said Dr. Lawrence S. Feinsod, NJSBA executive director. “This legislation would give school boards the ability to test their drinking water for lead. Our next challenge will be to discuss the state’s role in remediation, if and when lead contamination is found.”

Introduced on March 14, the legislation would require the release of test results to the public. Additionally, if the tests reveal a dangerous level of lead, students’ families would be notified. Schools would also be required to immediately provide an alternative drinking water supply.

The sponsors of S-2022 also sent a letter to New Jersey Commissioner of Education David Hespe, asking him to take action before the law is enacted. “When 30 buildings in Newark alone are found to have elevated levels of lead in the schools’ drinking water, it is time to acknowledge that we have a potential public health crisis in our schools,” they wrote. “We ask that you not wait for enactment of this bill.”

The dangers of ingesting lead—particularly for children—have been widely known for years. However, a renewed awareness of the need for testing has arisen since the water crisis in Flint, Michigan, and the discovery that lead levels in the drinking water at 30 of Newark’s 67 schools exceed permissible standards. Newark has since supplied alternative water supplies for drinking and cooking in the schools.

“NJSBA is committed to the health and wellness of our children. It’s critical to their academic success and their future as productive citizens,” said Feinsod. “We are closely monitoring this issue and will support proposals that enable local school boards to effectively address instances of high levels of lead in drinking water.”

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