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More Voices Join Call for Statewide Testing of Drinking Water in Schools

Influential school boards association backs two bills introduced in state Senate

State Sen. Teresa Ruiz (D-Essex)
Credit: Martin Griff
State Sen. Teresa Ruiz (D-Essex)

A push for statewide testing for lead in school drinking water gained impetus this week. Lawmakers continued to press for it and school representatives said they would support it, too.

A group of water-testing advocates gathered yesterday in Trenton to step up the public campaign for the state to follow through on its mandated lead-prevention measures for homes and public institutions.

Adding urgency were the findings this month of elevated lead levels in at least 30 Newark schools – roughly half the district – and questions about whether lead is a problem in other communities as well.

A bill filed this week by Senate President Steve Sweeney and state Sen. Teresa Ruiz (D-Essex) would appropriate $3 million for statewide testing in schools.

“This is a public health crisis that cannot be ignored. Nor is it one that we will allow to go unaddressed by government,” said state Sen. Ronald L. Rice (D-Essex), prime sponsor of a separate lead-prevention appropriation bill.

Rice was among a host of Democratic leaders who spoke out on the issue yesterday.

Leaders of the New Jersey School Boards Association, among the most influential of the school groups, announced yesterday that they would support the Sweeney-Ruiz bill.

“Board of education members are extremely concerned about the quality of drinking water in the schools where their children, grandchildren and neighbors’ children spend their days,” said Lawrence Feinsod, NJSBA’s executive director, in a statement posted on the association’s website yesterday.

Feinsod asked what will happen next – if schools are found to have heightened lead levels in their water -- but he said testing is a start.

“This legislation would give school boards the ability to test their drinking water for lead,” he said. “Our next challenge will be to discuss the state’s role in remediation, if and when lead contamination is found.”

The executive director of the state’s superintendents association echoed his remarks, commenting that most districts at this point are unlikely to be testing for lead in their water.

“I think Newark has opened our eyes to this,” said Richard Bozza, head of the New Jersey Association of School Administrators and himself a former superintendent for 20 years.

“There are districts that do monitor and those that don’t, and I think this has given us the reason to keep an eye on it.”

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