Following last week’s revelations of high lead contamination levels in Newark public schools’ drinking water, Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-3) is joining Senators Ronald Rice (D-28) and Teresa Ruiz (D-29) in calling for immediate testing of all New Jersey schools’ drinking water.
In a public letter to state Commissioner of Education David C. Hespe, the legislators call for testing “to ensure that our school children are protected from lead poisoning, and to provide their parents with the public health information that they need to make informed decisions to protect their children.”
The lawmakers are sponsors of a new bill that would allocate $3 million to conduct the tests, but their letter asks that Hespe start testing schools’ water before the bill becomes law. In the letter, they ask that every public school test for lead, notify parents of the results, and provide an alternate source of drinking water if the tests come back positive.
“When 30 school buildings in Newark alone are found to have elevated levels of lead in the school’s drinking water, it is time to acknowledge that we have a potential public health crisis,” they wrote. “These are steps that must be taken now to ensure that our school children and protected from lead poisoning.”
Newark is taking its own first steps to addressing the problem, with about 17,000 children scheduled to undergo testing. Roughly 2,000 toddlers from those schools will be the first to be tested, according director of the Department of Health Hanaa Hamdi. Students at the 30 affected schools are currently relying on bottled water.
The panic in Newark follows Flint, MI’s water crisis, which has loomed over Sweeney’s bill to effect a state takeover of Atlantic City. That bill would require the city to monetize its water authority, a step that Sweeney said will not necessarily lead to privatization. At a recent committee hearing, Sweeney called repeated comparisons between Flint and Atlantic City “dishonest.”
See the senators’ full letter here.