New Jersey Governor Announces New Lead Testing Regulations for Drinking Water in Schools

To combat higher than acceptable levels of lead found in school drinking water in a 2017 study, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy has announced that $100 million dollars in bond funding will be applied to more frequent testing of the counties' water supply. There will also be regulation changes in the frequency of lead testing, according to The Burlington County Times. The bond will likely become available for use in 2020, according to Governor Murphy.

"Are folks frustrated it's taken this long? Count me on that list. But that's not for a lack of a lot of work, literally moving heaven and earth. This is really complicated stuff. What we're saying today explicitly … districts that have a lead exceedance in their measurements will be eligible to be first in the queue for the money," he said.

The fountains and taps found to have high lead levels were shut down at the time, but there had been no announced permanent fix for the issue.

"Access to clean drinking water for every child in the state is a right not a privilege," said Murphy during a news conference announcing the regulation changes, alongside Education and Environmental Protection, Rep. Josh Gottheimer and other state lawmakers from the 38th District.

Under existing regulations, ratified in 2016, schools are required to test for lead every six years and post the results of their findings on their district websites. Governor Murphy has announced the regulations have been updated to require testing every three years and that results be posted to the Department of Education's website. Stiffer requirements will also be applied to districts that don't comply with the state's regulations.

According to Gottheimer, his staff did check and noted that many New Jersey school districts were either not complying with the state-required testing limits, or had made the results of their tests difficult to find.

"That's why we're here today, to give parents more information," Gottheimer said.

"We searched and searched and searched," he added. "As a parent, I want to be able to look it up quickly and know if there's a problem with our school or no problem."

bottled water
A 2017 study found high levels of lead in drinking water at New Jersey schools. Rick Loomis/Getty

Newark, New Jersey is currently under a lead contamination crisis, reporting that more than 10 percent of all homes in the city had more than twice the allowed level of lead allowed by state regulations in their drinking water.

"Lead contamination is not a Newark problem or an urban problem. It's not just a Bergen problem. It's not a short-term problem. It's a problem that has been building over the decades in communities up and down our state and indeed across the country," Governor Murphy said. "It's a challenge we must take on together across all levels of government."

Lawmakers are currently considering adopting stricter lead standards for daycare centers, among other legal measures. But for some lawmakers, the change is not material enough.

"Our schools should be able to ensure clean and safe drinking water for all of our schoolchildren and protect against any exposure to lead contamination," Senate President Stephen Sweeney in a statement given after the news conference. "Thankfully, the delay in securing the funding of $100 million to help school districts remove the dangerous threat of lead contamination will now be resolved. The testing requirement for all school districts will now be enforced, state funding to cover their costs will be provided and the results will be accessible to the public. These are good steps, but more needs to be done."