Lead found in water at half of school taps tested in Bergen County, New Jersey

Environment America

A new analysis by Environment America shows lead in the water at 55 percent of schools’ faucets and fountains tested in Bergen County, New Jersey.  The group’s finding is based on data from all county school districts that made complete testing results publicly available by the state’s testing deadline, last Thursday.  Advocates and public health experts renewed their calls for swift action to “get the lead out” of schools drinking water in New Jersey and across the country.

“When half the taps in Bergen County schools are showing lead, you know we have a pervasive threat to our children’s health,” said John Rumpler, clean water program director for Environment America. “It’s time to get the lead out.”

The Bergen County results are the latest evidence that lead contamination in school drinking water is a widespread problem, in all kinds of communities. For example, tests from across Massachusetts mirror the new Bergen County results – with roughly half of more than 60,000 tests detecting lead in schools’ water.   

“Lead in the water at our schools is unacceptable,” said Michael O’Brien, a parent in Tenafly, New Jersey. “We’re talking about our children’s health here.”

The root of the problem is that all too often, schools have pipes, plumbing and/or fixtures that leach lead into drinking water.  As more schools test their water, they are finding lead.  Yet parents are often given the impression that there is no problem unless concentrations of lead exceed a federal “action level” of 15 parts per billion – a standard designed for water utility management rather than a level at which the water is safe for children to drink.

“Lead is a potent neurotoxin, affecting the way our kids learn, grow, and behave,” said Steven Gilbert, PhD, PABT, who directs the Institute of Neurotoxicology & Neurological Disorders.  “There is no safe level of lead for children.”

As documented in the group’s Get the Lead Out report, current laws – in New Jersey and elsewhere – do little to prevent children’s drinking water from becoming laced with lead at school.

Environment America is working with parents, doctors, nurses, and local leaders to ensure safe drinking water for all children at schools (and daycares).  The group is calling for: 1) immediately installing filters certified to remove lead at all outlets used for cooking or drinking; 2) replacing lead-bearing pipes, fixtures, and fountains; and 3) ensuring safe drinking water for all children at school – with lead concentrations no greater than 1 part per billion, the standard recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics. The group’s state affiliates are pressing for stronger laws in Trenton and other state capitols.

And in Washington, DC, both Senator Cory Booker and Representative Josh Gottheimer have introduced bills to help provide schools with funding to “get the lead out” of their drinking water.

“Lead is a potent neurotoxin, so keeping it out of our school’s drinking water should be a no-brainer,” Doug O’Malley, director of Environment New Jersey. “From Bergen County to Camden, parents are demanding their politicians move swiftly to get the lead out.”