HAMILTON TOWNSHIP – Recent news reports of dangerously high lead levels in drinking water in cities including Flint, Michigan, and Newark in New Jersey have prompted federal and state legislators throughout the country to take action.
Under the direction of the New Jersey Department of Education and the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, every public school in the state is now required to test its drinking water for the presence of lead before June 30.
After receiving the order, Hamilton Township School Superintendent Frank Vogel opted to act quickly.
Recently samples were taken from all of the water outlets at the Joseph Shaner School, the district's oldest school. Of the 54 water samples taken, all but six tested below the acceptable lead level of 15 parts per billion established by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for drinking water.
The readings at five outlets ranged from 16.3 ppb to 28 ppb, while the sixth tested at 97.4 ppb. The sixth outlet has no student access.
The findings prompted Vogel to notify parents by letter as well as robocalls.
“In accordance with the Department of Education regulations, the Shaner School has already implemented remedial measures for the drinking water outlets with a result greater than the action level of 15 µg/l (parts per billion [ppb]). This includes turning off the drinking water fountain in each of the affected areas and providing bottled water to each affected classroom until the situation has been remediated,” the letter sent to parents stated.
“Our next step will be to replace each affected water fountain in the identified areas of the school that had an elevated level of lead above 15 ppb. After the fountain is replaced, we will retest the water and post our findings online.”
At the Board of Education meeting Monday, Nov. 28 Vogel reassured parents and staff that everything possible is being done to protect the health and safety of children and staff.
“We intend to stay ahead of the curve and remain proactive and transparent,” he said. “I assure you that we are adhering to all state guidelines and recommendations for testing.”
He pointed out that while the lead levels are far from the range that occurred in Flint, where testers discovered 4,000 to 40,000 ppb, the Shaner School findings are still a concern.
Ian Nelson, supervisor of buildings and grounds, said new fixtures were expected to arrive the following day. The new metal fixtures are coated with plastic so the water does not come in contact with the metal, he said.
Vogel said testing will take place at the district’s other two schools later in the week, and results should be known within a week or two. He said a copy of the test results is available for public inspection 8:30 a.m.-4 p.m. weekdays in the district’s central office. The results are also available on the district website at hamiltonschools.org.