New testing shows that Seth Boyden fountain is safe

MAPLEWOOD, NJ — The school district retested the Seth Boyden drinking fountain that was found to have lead levels approximately 30 times greater than the actionable limit and and found it to be well within state guidelines.

Superintendent of Schools John Ramos Sr. sent out an update on June 23, saying that the fountain in question, located in the hallway outside Room 105 at Seth Boyden, which May testing found to have a lead of 444 parts per billion, had been retested the previous week and found to have less than 1 ppb of lead. The actionable limit set by the NJ Department of Environmental Protection is 15 ppb — anything lower than that, under state law, does not require remediation action.

“SOMSD has received the results of retesting the water fountain at Seth Boyden that had a finding of 444 parts per billion in the sample taken in May. Lew Corp, our testing company, took 2 samples from this water fountain last week, and followed the same State-mandated testing protocols. Both of the new samples had results of less than 1 part per billion of lead,” Ramos said in his update to the community.

While some may feel relief that this new round of testing show such a marked drop in lead levels, it leaves the question of why the fountain had initially tested at 444 ppb. At the June 12 meeting the school district held with concerned residents, experts said that such high results did not necessarily mean there was something wrong with the fountain, as water is not a constant. Water tested from the same source days apart could have drastically different results due to outside forces such as construction work.

In addition to the Seth Boyden fountain at 444 ppb, the testing found eight other water sources to be above the 15 ppb action level. All affected water sources were shut off and covered with plastic to prevent students from accessing them. At South Mountain School, Room 3 tested at 17.2 ppb; at South Mountain Annex, Room 103 tested at 30.3 ppb, and the hallway outside the room tested at 28.5 ppb; at Tuscan School, Room 22 tested at 46.1 ppb; the concession stand at Underhill Field tested at 15.3 ppb; and at Maplewood Middle School, Room 22 tested at 46.1 ppb, the kitchen at 16.7 ppb and the teacher’s lounge at 46.8 ppb. The district has stated that the water from the MMS kitchen was at no time used for food preparation. Additionally, three water samples from South Orange Middle School had been lost; these water sources were also shut off just to be safe.

“The other eight water sources which had results above the action level of 15 parts per billion were retested this week, as were the three sources from SOMS whose original samples were lost and not included in the original report,” Ramos said in the June 23 update. “We expect the results of these tests next week.”

The school district is now working to remediate issues within identified water sources.

“This summer, we are planning to replace all of the water fountains and/or faucets which had elevated lead levels in the initial testing, and we are installing filtration systems on all of our drinking fountains which provide drinking water or are used for food preparation, as a preventative measure,” Ramos said. “Although the replacement of the drinking fountains and/or faucets and the installation of filtration systems are not required by the state, we will undertake these measures to provide additional safety to our drinking water.”

There is still no word as to when the district and the two towns will have a system in place to test children for lead, though the health officers of the two towns stated at the June 12 meeting that they were working on the issue and would not stop until they had a solution.