BERGENFIELD, N.J. — Public schools in New Jersey will have to test their water for lead twice as often as they do now and share the results on a yet-to-be-created state database under guidelines announced Monday by officials.
The announcement continues a series of measures catalyzed by the recent water crisis in Newark, where residents in 14,000 homes with lead pipes have been given bottled water since mid-August after limited tests showed some filters weren't adequately reducing lead levels.
Lead in drinking water has been linked to developmental delays in children and can damage the brain, red blood cells and kidneys. It is most often caused by lead service lines — pipes connecting a home to a water main — or lead fixtures in a home or school.
The state Legislature is holding hearings and the state Department of Environmental Protection is stepping up its inventory of lead pipes in water systems around the state, a process that started earlier in the year.
Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy was joined Monday at the Herbert Hoover Elementary School by Democratic Rep. Josh Gottheimer, whose office recently surveyed more than 80 school districts that are located in his district across four counties in northern and western New Jersey.
Gottheimer found that about 20% of the school districts didn't post information on lead testing on their websites, and that in other cases the information was difficult to find.
"Are the results posted so parents can find them in an easily accessible way? As a dad, I want to know," Gottheimer said. "And I want to be able to look at that and quickly make a decision. And I think the steps we're taking today will help to that end."
Murphy added that schools that fail to comply with reporting requirements could face certain penalties.
"This problem has been building over decades, up and down our state and across the country," Murphy said.
Under existing guidelines, schools are required to test for lead every six years. Murphy said Monday that will be reduced to three years.
Earlier this month, public records from the DEP's lead pipe inventory obtained by The Associated Press showed the state has about 160,000 lead pipes, though that number was incomplete because it included some partial results from about three-quarters of the state's nearly 600 water systems. Officials have said they expect the number to rise.
The sustained focus comes as the state's biggest city grapples with positive tests for lead in drinking water. Wider sampling of city-issued filters in Newark showed that up to 99% are effective, and the distribution of bottled water is being scaled back this week.
Last spring, the city switched the chemicals it was using to treat its water supply after tests showed the previous treatment was failing. It is facing a federal lawsuit that claims it failed to adequately notify residents or act quickly enough when it became clear lead levels were rising. The city has denied the allegations. — (AP)