It’s not what we do know about lead in school drinking water — that it is pervasive in districts throughout the state — that’s most concerning, it’s the lack of uniform data available to assess the problem, according to a recent report.
“We need better data collection and analysis to understand the extent of the issue,” the nonprofit New Jersey Future concluded in a preliminary analysis of reported test results released in August.
In July 2016, Gov. Chris Christie mandated all school districts perform testing on drinking-water sources for high levels of lead after the dangerous metal was found in Newark schools’ drinking water. The state allocated $10 million for districts and gave them a one-year deadline.
While the deadline has passed, and although many schools in South Jersey have fulfilled their obligations, there is no statewide data-collection system, which makes it hard to see the whole picture.
New Jersey Future criticized the lead testing process initiated by the state for its lack of transparency. The group solicited from the state all of the districts that reported high levels of lead in drinking water and found the response woefully incomplete.
“The type and level of data collected is insufficient to quantify how many schools in New Jersey have lead in drinking water and how many outlets require remediation to keep children safe,” the report states.
New Jersey Future made several recommendations, including that the state develop a standardized electronic collection system and better data-collection methods.
The Department of Education declined to comment on the New Jersey Future report.
However, the flaws in the system were apparent in a recent survey of 71 school districts in the Press of Atlantic City’s coverage area. Twenty-six districts reported no high levels of lead in drinking water, and 39 districts reported at least one water source that tested high. However, more than six districts did not have lead test results available on their district website.
In some instances, the missing information was simply an oversight. Margate, which had its school website updated earlier this year, did not have its lead testing results online until a reporter notified them of the oversight. They were uploaded within the hour.
In Maurice River Township, an outdated version of the test results was posted instead of the most recent information. That too was corrected within an hour of a reporter notifying the district. The same goes for Avalon and Stone Harbor, where Stone Harbor’s test results were missing, but Avalon’s were posted.
Of the 39 districts that did report at least one high lead test, 22 submitted notifications to the state Department of Education per new state requirements, according to an Open Public Records Act request. At least two districts contacted said they had notified the DOE, although their notifications were not included in the state’s OPRA response.
Another issue The Press survey turned up with the state’s lead-testing requirements is the lack of uniformity in the reporting process. Some districts posted the lab results and a letter simplifying the results for parents and guardians, noting how many high lead tests there were out of how many samples taken, as well as what the remediation process was. Other districts just posted the lab results. Some districts broke down the tests per school, while others posted districtwide results.
Brigantine was one of the 22 districts whose lead results were included in The Press’ OPRA request. Out of the 133 outlets tested, 28 came back with levels of lead over 15 parts per billion, the Environmental Protection Agency’s “action level.” The district remediated all problem areas: Several of the outlets were disconnected, and the others were labeled “for hand washing only.”
Brian Pruitt, superintendent of Brigantine Public Schools, said that because it’s the first time the testing is being done, he expects the NJDOE to make improvements and adjustments to the process going forward. Pruitt praised the state for requiring the testing in the first place.
“I think it’s another notification to the parents and the staff and the children of all these school communities that the state’s taking a step to identify any area that might be a safety concern, and that you can make an actionable response to the data,” he said.
South Jersey School lead testing compliance and result
|County name||District name||Posted test results on school website||# of samples tested above 15 ppb for lead||# of samples taken||High lead test results received by the NJDOE|
|ATLANTIC||Chartertech High School for the Performing Arts||x||0||?||NA|
|ATLANTIC||Egg Harbor Township School District||x||0||276||NA|
|ATLANTIC||Folsom Borough School District||x||0||19||NA|
|ATLANTIC||Northfield City School District||x||0||?||NA|
|ATLANTIC||Pleasantville Public School District||x||0||72||NA|
|ATLANTIC||Port Republic School District||x||0||7||NA|
|ATLANTIC||Ventnor City School District||x||0||?||NA|
|CAPE MAY||Avalon School District||x||0||37||NA|
|CAPE MAY||Cape May City School District||x||0||24||NA|
|CAPE MAY||Cape May County Special Services School District||x||0||84||NA|
|CAPE MAY||Cape May County Technical High School District||x||0||72||NA|
|CAPE MAY||Dennis Township School District||x||0||52||NA|
|CAPE MAY||Middle Township Public School District||x||0||187||NA|
|CAPE MAY||West Cape May Elementary School District||x||0||12||NA|
|CUMBERLAND||Bridgeton Public Charter School||x||0||?||NA|
|CUMBERLAND||Commercial Township School District||x||0||42||NA|
|CUMBERLAND||Compass Academy Charter School||x||0||7||NA|
|CUMBERLAND||Cumberland Regional School District||x||0||117||NA|
|CUMBERLAND||Downe Township School District||x||0||64||NA|
|CUMBERLAND||Lawrence Township School District||x||0||64||NA|
|OCEAN||Beach Haven School District||x||0||5||NA|
|OCEAN||Long Beach Island Consolidated School District||x||0||27||NA|
|OCEAN||Southern Regional School District||x||0||?||NA|
|CUMBERLAND||Maurice River Township School District||x||0||35||NA|
|CUMBERLAND||Fairfield Township School District||x||0||51||NA|
|CAPE MAY||Stone Harbor School District||x||0||7||NA|
|ATLANTIC||Absecon Public Schools District||x||1||68||x|
|CAPE MAY||Woodbine School District||x||1||16|
|CUMBERLAND||Deerfield Township School District||x||1||49|
|CUMBERLAND||Millville Public Charter School||x||1||?|
|CUMBERLAND||Vineland Public Charter School||x||1||?|
|ATLANTIC||Buena Regional School District||x||2||99|
|ATLANTIC||Egg Harbor City School District||x||2||27||x|
|ATLANTIC||Weymouth Township School District||x||2||?|
|CAPE MAY||North Wildwood School District||x||2||28||x|
|CAPE MAY||Wildwood City School District||x||2||51||x|
|OCEAN||Eagleswood Township School District||x||2||41||x|
|ATLANTIC||Atlantic City School District||x||3||255|
|ATLANTIC||Margate City School District||x||3||90|
|CAPE MAY||Lower Cape May Regional School District||x||3||67||x|
|OCEAN||Little Egg Harbor Township School District||x||3||?|
|ATLANTIC||Hammonton School District||x||4||24|
|ATLANTIC||Estell Manor City School District||x||5||47|
|ATLANTIC||Linwood City School District||x||5||54||x|
|OCEAN||Ocean County Vocational Technical||x||5||81||x|
|ATLANTIC||Atlantic County Vocational School District||x||6||73||x|
|CAPE MAY||Wildwood Crest Borough School District||x||6||68||x|
|CUMBERLAND||Hopewell Township School District||x||6||45||x|
|OCEAN||Barnegat Township School District||x||6||185|
|ATLANTIC||Hamilton Township School District||x||7||?||x|
|CUMBERLAND||Vineland Public School District||x||7||273|
|OCEAN||Stafford Township School District||x||8||178||x|
|ATLANTIC||Mainland Regional High School District||x||9||58|
|CAPE MAY||Ocean City School District||x||10||150||x|
|ATLANTIC||Somers Point School District||x||13||145|
|CUMBERLAND||Upper Deerfield Township School District||x||13||122||x|
|ATLANTIC||Greater Egg Harbor Regional High School District||x||18||261||x|
|CAPE MAY||Lower Township Elementary School District||x||21||160||x|
|CAPE MAY||Upper Township School District||x||21||114||x|
|ATLANTIC||Mullica Township School District||x||23||95|
|ATLANTIC||Atlantic County Special Services School District||x||27||193||x|
|ATLANTIC||Galloway Township Public Schools||x||27||439||x|
|ATLANTIC||Brigantine Public School District||x||28||133||x|
|ATLANTIC||Atlantic Community Charter School||?||?|
|ATLANTIC||International Academy of Atlantic City Charter School||?||?|
|CUMBERLAND||Cumberland County Vo-Tech||?||?|
|CUMBERLAND||Greenwich-Stow Creek School District||?||?|
|OCEAN||Pinelands Regional School District||?||?|
|OCEAN||Tuckerton Borough School District||?||?|
|CUMBERLAND||Bridgeton City School District||x||Some||?||x|
|CUMBERLAND||Millville School District||x||Some||959|
Contact: 609-272-7251 CLowe@pressofac.com Twitter @clairelowe