State Director, Environment New Jersey
State Director, Environment New Jersey
Environment New Jersey Research & Policy Center
ATLANTIC COUNTY — An overwhelming 92% of Atlantic County schools with available testing data had lead in their water at one or more taps, according to a new report released by Environment New Jersey Research & Policy Center and the Black Church Center for Justice and Equality (BCC) on Wednesday. The report also found that water from 45% of all faucets and fountains tested in Pleasantville and Galloway Township schools were tainted with lead.
“Schools should be safe places where our kids go to learn, achieve and grow up to be productive citizens in society,” said Environment New Jersey Research & Policy Center Clean Water Associate Julia Geskey. “Instead, our study shows that from the moment Atlantic County kids enter their school buildings, they face the pervasive threat of lead in drinking water.”
Every single school in Pleasantville and Galloway Township school districts had lead in its water at one or more taps. Four of those schools had more than 50% of their taps contaminated with lead.
“The extent of lead contamination in our schools’ drinking water is unacceptable,” said LaTasha Blackmon Johnson, a Pleasantville parent. “Knowing that my kids, and so many others, could have been exposed to lead for years is terrifying. As a mother and as a community member, I believe that we should be doing everything we can to protect our kids from the lifelong effects of lead exposure.”
The groups are calling on New Jersey school districts to replace all fountains with water bottle/hydration stations that are equipped with filters that remove lead. This step would eliminate a common source of lead (fountains), capture lead from plumbing, and promote healthy hydration, as kids tend to drink more water from bottle stations.
“We possess a sacred charge to care for each child as our own, to guarantee that their schools are safe spaces for them to learn, grow, eat, and drink,” said Pastor Willie Francois, who is president of the Black Church Center for Justice and Equality. “With that, it becomes our moral duty, as a community, to ensure that the water our children consume, while at school, is safe and free from lead.”
Several local officials remarked that the groups’ research has convinced them to take decisive action. School board leaders in Pleasantville are meeting this evening to discuss the matter. In addition, Atlantic City Councilman Kaleem Shabazz vowed to consider action on citywide measures such as filters and water stations at parks, playgrounds, and libraries.
Major resources are now available to school districts to stop lead contamination. As outlined in a separate Environment New Jersey Research & Policy Center toolkit, funding sources include federal relief funds, state grants and $200 million in the bipartisan infrastructure law.
“We are in the business of shaping minds and futures,” said Sharnell Morgan, vice president of the Pleasantville Public School Board. “We are committed to working toward a policy that ensures our children will no longer have to face this health threat when they come to school.”
The Environment New Jersey Research & Policy Center is dedicated to protecting our air, water and open spaces. We work to protect the places we love, advance the environmental values we share, and win real results for our environment. For more information, visit https://environmentnewjerseycenter.org/.
The Black Church Center for Justice and Equality is a non profit organization with the mission to reaffirm the social justice tradition of the Black Church by providing a platform for progressive theological debate, public policy advocacy, and public engagement that amplifies the voices of progressive African-American faith leaders. For more about BCC, visit https://theblackchurch.net/.