Gottheimer Announces Steps to Combat Lead Water in New Jersey Schools

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BERGENFIELD, NJ, October 7, 2019 | comments

Gottheimer calls for transparency and information for parents and state enforcement of school lead water testing laws

New Jersey to create centralized, easy-to-access school lead water reporting database

Above: Gottheimer stands with state officials to announce steps to keep kids safe from lead-contaminated water in New Jersey schools.

Today, Monday, October 7, 2019, with the Governor and state elected officials, U.S. Congressman Josh Gottheimer (NJ-5) announced clear steps to provide parents and communities with easy-to-access and up-to-date information on dangerous lead water in their children’s schools.

Gottheimer called for school districts: 1) to immediately test for lead if they have not already done so; 2) for school districts to make all test results widely available in an easy-to-find place on their websites, in plain speak, so that all New Jersey parents have access to this critical information; for school districts to follow up the following year and post steps taken to remediate; 3) for schools to be required to test their water for lead, and disclose findings, more frequently than the current requirement of once every six years; 4) for New Jersey, and all states, to create an easy-to-access central database that schools report into every year with lead water results for parents; and 5) for the State of New Jersey to strictly enforce the law that is already on the books.

Since 2017, Gottheimer has been calling on the State of New Jersey to enforce its school lead testing requirements and to create a centralized reporting website, and sounding the alarm on lead water in New Jersey schools and the health and safety impacts of lead exposure to New Jersey children, including letters to the state in October 2018, February 2019, and again in June 2019.

Today, the State of New Jersey announced that it would increase required school lead testing from every six to every three years, enhance enforcement measures against non-compliant schools, and create a centralized, state-managed database of lead testing results and information from all school districts.

"Every child deserves to drink water that’s free of lead, and every parent deserves to know if their child’s school has lead in their pipes, sinks, or water fountains. We're here to announce steps to give parents and communities easy-to-access and up-to-date information on their child’s school’s water. It’s a level of transparency many of us have been calling for, for years now," said U.S. Congressman Josh Gottheimer (NJ-5). "Last Congress, a key piece of my bipartisan Lead-Free Schools Act was enacted into law, creating a targeted pilot program with existing resources to improve drinking water infrastructure in schools nationwide with lead in their water. And right now, I’m working on new federal legislation to claw the resources back to New Jersey, from the Moocher States, needed to help our schools identify and replace all lead pipes -- and to promote transparency by making the results accessible to families online."

Gottheimer stood today at Herbert Hoover Elementary School with New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy, New Jersey Department of Education Commissioner Dr. Lamont Repollet, New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Catherine McCabe, New Jersey State Senator Joseph Lagana, Assemblywoman Lisa Swain, Assemblyman Christopher Tully, and Bergenfield Superintendent Christopher Tully, among others.

In his introduction today, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy said, “I must give a huge shout out to the guy to my right, Congressman Josh Gottheimer, who’s helped sound the alarm and open more eyes to the fact that the extent of our lead problem isn’t left to our urban areas... He is a passionate advocate for Bergen County’s kids and schools and I applaud his efforts not just here at home, but also in Congress, alongside our delegation, to push the federal government to support lead abatement efforts."

Gottheimer also noted his work over the past several years with Senate President Steve Sweeney, State Senators Lagana and Oroho, Speaker Coughlin, Assemblymembers Tully and Swain, the League of Conservation Voters, the Sierra Club, Clean Water Action, and many others, to help keep children safe.

"Lead in our drinking water is a public health concern that we must act to address immediately," said New Jersey State Senator Joseph Lagana. "Along with District 38 Assembly Members Swain and Tully, I have introduced legislation to increase transparency around water quality and help mobilize remediation measures in the event of an exceedance. It is necessary to work with all levels of government on this issue and the full commitment of the Administration and Legislative Leadership will greatly aid the fight to ensure our families have access to clean water."

“As the Mayor of Fair Lawn I tackled contaminated water issues and was able to make positive changes for our residents. Now as an Assemblywoman I am taking the fight to lead in our drinking water. No child should be at risk of damaging their health when they drink water at school and I am proud to be a sponsor of legislation to help protect our kids," said New Jersey Assemblywoman Lisa Swain.

“Since my days in Congressman Gottheimer’s office I have led the charge against lead in school drinking water, calling for increased transparency around testing results. Now I’m sponsoring a bill package that that would increase regulation and oversight of schools, daycares, water systems and landlords, ensure that water system customers, schools and daycare centers, and the proper State and local authorities are quickly notified of exceedances, and make it easier for towns to replace lead service lines," said New Jersey Assemblyman Christopher Tully.

This past week, Gottheimer released a new report, The State of Lead Water in Schools in New Jersey’s Fifth Congressional District, which analyzes every school district within the Fifth District for their compliance with New Jersey’s lead water reporting law and the ability to easily find information on each school district’s website.

A significant number of school districts do not report lead test results, meaning parents do not know whether their children’s school drinking water is safe.

Of the school districts that do report lead tests, 52 districts, according to information and we could find, reported at least one outlet within their system had a problem with lead water. That is more than half of all the school districts in the Fifth District. Given the current requirements, it is unclear if all districts have addressed the issues, although it is likely they have.

View the State of Lead Water in Schools in New Jersey’s Fifth Congressional District report here.

Watch today’s announcement here.

Gottheimer’s full remarks as prepared for delivery are below.

Thank you for Governor for being here this morning, as we sound the alarm on this threat to the health and safety of our families and kids: dangerously elevated lead levels in our drinking water.

We are here today because every child deserves to drink water that’s free of lead, and every parent deserves to know if their child’s school has lead in their pipes, sinks, or water fountains.

I’m grateful that we’re here to announce steps to do just that – giving parents and communities easy-to-access, and up-to-date information on their child’s school’s water, so they can make the right decisions. It’s a level of transparency many of us have been calling for, for years now.

But, that’s not happening across the board in Jersey right now, including in many of our schools right here in northern New Jersey. In many schools, despite what’s required by state law, it’s hard to figure out if they’ve tested their water for lead.  Or, if they have, and there’s a problem, it’s unclear to parents if they’ve fixed it.  That’s why we’re here today – to give parents more information. It’s just common sense.

This weekend, my office issued a report that checked every school district in the counties I represent to see if parents could find basic information required by law: has their school tested for lead in the water and what was the result. We did our best to find the information, just like a parent would.

Here’s what we learned: of 85 school districts here in northern New Jersey – a significant number have not reported their lead testing results, in an easy to find way, on their websites.

More than half of our school districts indicated at least one outlet within their system that had a problem with lead in their water.  Many, if not all, I’m hopeful, have addressed any issues, but the information isn’t clear or easy to find.  That’s unacceptable.

Why is this so important? We know that exposure to lead can have a severe impact on our children, stunting development, causing learning disabilities, hearing loss, seizures, and irreversible harm to brain development, the nervous system, and vital organs. 

Many of our schools are older, so, their pipes, sinks, and water fountains predate the transition to lead-free pipes. From our tunnels to our bridges to our roads, our infrastructure needs massive updating – and our pipes are no exception. You can’t close your eyes and hope it will go away.

To me, there are five clear steps we can take to give parents, teachers, and communities the information they deserve about lead levels in their schools, so they’re well-informed and can take the necessary steps:

First, if school districts have not already done so, it’s critical they conduct lead tests in their schools as soon as possible.

Second, school districts should also make all test results widely available in an easy-to-find place on their websites, in plain speak, so that all New Jersey parents have access to this critical information. If there is a problem, they should have to follow up the next year, and post steps they’ve taken to remediate.

Third, schools should also be required to test their water for lead, and disclose findings, more than the current requirement of once every six years. Six years is a long time -- it’s nearly half of a child’s K-12 education. A child could go through much of their school experience with lead-tainted water.

Fourth, New Jersey, and all states, should create an easy-to-access central database that schools report into every year with lead water results for parents. I’m grateful that the Governor is taking steps to do just that.

Finally, the State of New Jersey must strictly enforce the law that’s already on the books, and I’m glad the Governor is announcing steps to do that. As our report shows, without full enforcement, lead water disclosure laws will not have the intended and necessary effect.

The bottom line: Our goal here is 100 percent compliance from our school districts of state laws, and 100 percent enforcement from the state. And we need to help our schools achieve those results.

I’m also taking steps on the federal level. I was proud that last Congress, a key piece of my bipartisan legislation, the Lead-Free Schools Act, was enacted into law, creating a targeted pilot program using existing resources to improve drinking water infrastructure in schools nationwide with lead in their water. Right now, I’m working on new federal legislation to claw the resources back to New Jersey, from the Moocher States, needed to help our schools identify and replace all lead pipes -- and to promote transparency by making the results accessible to families online.

It builds on Senator Booker’s important legislation that was signed into law on Friday, which will help us replace lead-coated pipes in our schools and homes. 

Finally, this is a bipartisan issue that can bring everyone together to solve a clear problem.  I’m proud to have worked over the past several years not only with the Governor, but with Senate President Steve Sweeney, State Senators Lagana and Oroho, Speaker Coughlin, Assemblyman Tully, Assemblywoman Swain, the League of Conservation Voters, the Sierra Club, Clean Water Action, and so many others, to help keep our children safe.

These steps will help ensure that, as ever, in the greatest country in the world, our best days will always be ahead of us and that our families and children will be safe and healthy.

Thank you. God bless you, and may God continue to bless the United States of America.

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