By Michael Hill
“We simply can’t afford to gamble with their health or with their futures,” said Congressman Josh Gottheimer.
Freshman Congressman Gottheimer calls it a bipartisan priority.
“It’s not Democrat or Republican. Clean water, clean drinking water is a Fifth District issue. It’s an American issue. And it’s a mom and dad issue,” he said.
Gottheimer cited statistics and reports of elevated lead levels in drinking water across New Jersey and America and says he wants to drain the nation’s schools of lead in drinking water and pipes. He’s proposing the Lead-Free Schools Act with striking similarities to safe drinking water legislation Congressman Frank Pallone introduced last year and re-introduced this year.
Gottheimer says his bill would do three things.
One: “It will test our schools for lead in the drinking water. My bill increases the resources available to our schools to help testing,” he said.
Two: “My legislation requires that school districts, via the state, reports results on a user-friendly website the status and outcome of lead water testing in their schools,” he said.
And three: “My bill creates a targeted pilot program through existing resources to improve drinking water infrastructure in schools where there’s lead in the water. I’m hoping these resources will help more schools jump start their programs to replace fountains, faucets, drinking fountain nozzles and fountain infrastructure and prevent lead from seeping into a school’s drinking water supply,” he said.
Clean water advocates said the bill would take the worry out of drinking from school fountains.
“When it comes to the problem of lead in our drinking water, we need more funding, we need more protections, not less,” said Alyssa Bradley, Clean Water Action senior field manager.
“Lead doesn’t have any useful purpose in the body and in the biological systems. Therefore you could say anything above zero lead is excessive exposure. We may not be able to get it down to zero, but we should be trying hard to move it in that direction,” said Hugh Evans, toxicology adviser for the Sierra Club of New Jersey.
This Northvale school was built in 1969, about two decades before Congress banned lead in public water supplies. Gottheimer says this school replaced its fountains and added filters to produce lead-free results.
The congressman says this district exemplifies how to handle concerns of lead in the drinking water.
“But, here’s the challenge: not every school has been able to take the steps that they’ve taken here. And I don’t want any parent here in Bergen County, in the Fifth District, in our state or across our county for that matter to have to worry if the water in their child’s drinks are chock full of lead,” Gottheimer said.
Gottheimer says that’s what motivates his bill.