By Briana Vannozzi
Water fountains contaminated with lead have been replaced throughout the New Brunswick school district. They got lucky with the cost, about $1,000 a pop — $10,000 total for the job. But that’s not the norm.
“In many of the school systems in New Jersey where we’ve had this problem and not just here, but throughout the country, they’ll shut down the fountains but they maybe don’t have the funding to correct the system,” said Congressman Frank Pallone.
Pallone is introducing new legislation to amend the Safe Drinking Water Act. It’ll provide funds so schools can replace drinking fountains made before 1988.
“It provides $5 million per year for five years potentially leading to the replacement of, we hope, at least 5,000 dangerous drinking water fountains around the country,” Pallone said.
Any leftover funds can be used for lead monitoring.
“We did some changes, we went back to retest and maybe one or two we found we had to do some more remediation. So we’re at that point now where we feel comfortable to state that all our water fountains are corrected, not to say that we will not have any other problems. We are committed to providing a safe environment for our students,” said Superintendent Aubrey Johnson.
With over 3,000 public schools, the state has its work cut out. Gov. Chris Christie reinstated $10 million in the budget to help alleviate remediation costs for schools.
According to the Health Department, roughly 170,000 children were tested for lead last fiscal year, with 898 reported cases of elevated blood lead levels in children under 6 years old.
“I decided to look at data for New Jersey and just compare it. I was interested and it was very quick to see that 11 cities in New Jersey had a higher incidence of children with high lead over the last 12-month period than compared to Flint,” said Elyse Pivnik, director of environmental health for Isles.
“What we tried to do as a school district to take the steps that we didn’t necessarily so that we could make sure our students were safe, but you talk about infrastructure, that’s communities, that’s cities, that’s even states and also on a federal basis,” said Woodrow Wilson Elementary School Principal Jerry Smith.
So Pallone and colleagues in Congress are proposing to increase water infrastructure money — a five-year plan called the AQUA Act that appropriates $21.8 billion to update old pipes.
Pallone says part of the reason he believes water infrastructure has been neglected this long is that this is a problem you can’t see.