Water testing to begin this week to ensure that all faucets and water fountains in the district are tested for lead and any elevated levels remediated
[Newark NJ – March 16, 2016] – The Newark Public Schools (NPS) announced today that the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has compiled and reviewed water test results dating back to the 2012-13 school year and that NPS will be making this data available to the public on the NPS website tomorrow morning.
The historical data was provided to both DEP and Newark Public Schools by the district’s outside laboratory last week upon discovering elevated levels in samples from the current year. The data shows that out of about 2067 water quality samples collected between 2012 and 2015, approximately 12% reflected lead levels above the federal action level of 15 parts per billion. This data is similar to those shared in the current year, where about 10% (of samples collected were above that level. Documentary evidence suggests that schools have been tested, and remedial actions undertaken, as far back as 2004. Different testing contractors provided the service between 2004 and 2012. Requests for those testing results are in process and will be released as they become available.
NPS and the NJDEP previously released the results for the tests conducted between December 2015 and February 2016. The 2012-15 results are generally consistent with this last round of testing. While many schools had no readings above the threshold of 15 parts per billion, a significant number did have at least one “point of use” that exceeded it. In virtually all cases, the affected schools detected lead in less than half of the tested sites, with most of those well below 100ppb. NPS has reviewed the location of the highest readings and found that nearly all appear to be in locations not typically used for drinking or food preparation (e.g. the highest sample detected, was at a “slop sink”). The DEP has previously confirmed that there are no risks associated with dish or hand washing.
Dating back to 2004, NPS addressed these concerns by issuing directives instructing facilities personnel to take various actions to remediate and mitigate elevated lead levels. A review of past documentation confirms that thousands of mitigation actions, including filter and faucet replacement, were completed pursuant to these directives. “While document review and personnel interviews continue, it is neither realistic nor possible to match every finding with every associated remedial action over a period that spans three superintendents dating back to the Bolden administration,” noted Superintendent Cerf.
“Since this concern first came to my attention last Monday, district staff, and government partners at the city and state have been working around the clock to better understand this situation and to ensure that it is handled cautiously and responsibly,” Cerf continued. “Without intending to criticize any of my three predecessors, when I learned of the 2015 test results, I decided to address the situation differently. Within an hour, I had notified state and city officials and directed staff to connect with the State Department of Environmental Protection. By the end of the day, NPS and DEP were working collaboratively to analyze the underlying facts. By the time school opened Wednesday morning, we were shutting off all water fountains and other affected sites at any school that had received a positive reading. In addition, State, County and District personnel had delivered 90,000 liters of water to 30 sites. That same morning, we disclosed to the public all of test results then in our possession and participated in a press conference in an effort to fully inform the public.”
“It is highly unfortunate,” continued Cerf, “that John Abeigon, the President of the Newark Teachers Union, sought to politicize these circumstances instead of working with city, school and community leaders on solutions. It is even more unfortunate that Mr. Abeigon chose to spread misinformation into a community that was already understandably deeply concerned as these circumstances arose. For example, he released unauthenticated pictures of filter housings with dates on them that he contends are inconsistent with timely filter replacement. We have since confirmed, however, that the dates on the filter housing do not necessarily correspond to the dates of the filter replacement. Equally irresponsibly, Mr. Abeigon has claimed that the district intentionally “concealed” previous information about water quality from the public. As the above history describes in detail, the District has handled this issue in the same way – via remediation protocols – since 2004. It was only this year, under my direction, that NPS changed course by bringing the matter to the public directly and by convening state and local experts to design appropriate remediation strategies.”
“As a parent, I too find the fact that the district has identified elevated levels of lead in water in each of these past years extremely concerning,” said Superintendent Chris Cerf. “Accordingly, when we learned the results of this year’s tests, we immediately directed the district to take the following steps to correct the situation – we shut off any filter with an elevated sample, brought water into schools, and made the public aware of the results. Since that time, we’ve worked to create an extensive new water testing plan with the DEP and are working with the city to provide extra capacity to offer additional blood level testing”
The sampling will begin on Saturday, March 17th. The sampling plan prioritizes the sampling of water in non-traditional buildings (for example, a transportation hub) where lead testing did not occur in 2015-2016. The district will then proceed to retest the 30 active NPS school buildings that recorded elevated levels of lead on certain taps in recent results.
The sampling plan calls for the proper collection of the water samples by State-certified testing laboratories, quality assurance, chain of custody and documentation.
“In addition to re-testing the sites of the most recent results of elevated lead levels in certain schools, the sampling plan also gives Newark Public Schools an opportunity to fully document comprehensive, baseline information across the entire district, and to easily refer to it for future testing and remedial actions going forward,” DEP Commissioner Bob Martin said.
Newark Public Schools is working with the city to create additional capacity for free blood lead level testing to ensure families who do not have access through a primary care provider will have access to these tests if they want them. On Thursday and Friday, city health officials will be offering these services directly at the two early childhood centers on the initial list of schools with elevated levels, and will arrange for additional sites to be available over Spring Break to other schools. The district and city will be sharing more specific information on these locations in the coming days.
Lastly, district officials will continue to make it their top priority that students and staff have access to healthy drinking water during this time. NPS is coordinating with outside agencies, including the Mayor’s Office, the County, and other State agencies to assure there is ample alternate water supply for students, faculty and staff. There is currently adequate water supply available through Spring Break – the week of March 21 – which includes water already delivered by the State, Newark City and Essex County. The district is also in process of having water coolers installed in various schools. “We can assure the community that adequate supplies of water will be available as long as circumstances warrant,” noted Cerf.