New tests show 13 school fixtures with elevated lead levels

MAPLEWOOD / SOUTH ORANGE, NJ — In a Sept. 5 update, the South Orange-Maplewood School District reported that in the second round of lead testing, 13 fixtures showed evidence of elevated lead levels.

Concerns regarding the district’s water fixtures began last school year after the SOMSD, in compliance with the Department of Education regulations and technical guidance developed by the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, identified and tested all drinking water and food-preparation outlets. On June 12, the district announced that of the 223 samples taken, nine tested above the lead action level established the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for lead in drinking water.

As such, the district announced that all affected water sources were turned off and covered — though a parent discovered at a June 17 public forum that the water fountain that shown the highest lead level was still operational, despite being covered. The school district retested each of the nine sources and announced July 20 that only two exceeded the lead action level. Nevertheless, the school district took a “better safe than sorry” approach to the fluctuating results. As such, during the summer, the district replaced all nine of the water sources that initially tested above the action level for lead. Additionally, the district is installing filtration systems on all drinking fountains and food-preparation sinks as a preventative measure.

“As you may recall, in May 2017, SOMSD tested all of our plumbing fixtures, which provide drinking water or water used in food preparation, and nine were found to have elevated levels of lead at that time,” a Sept. 5 letter from the SOMSD read. “This summer, the district repaired water fountains and remediated all plumbing fixtures which provide drinking water or water used in food preparation by replacing some fountains with new fountains containing built-in filters, and by installing filters on other existing fountains and food preparation sinks.”

According to the district, LEW Corp., which provides water testing for the district, drew water samples the weekend of Aug. 19, and retested the remediated plumbing fixtures. Of the 225 plumbing fixtures retested, 13 fixtures showed an elevated lead level; additionally, 20 results have not yet returned, 15 plumbing fixtures are currently not working, and two plumbing fixtures have been permanently removed.

“The 13 plumbing fixtures which failed the second round testing will be remediated and retested again,” the Sept. 5 letter read. “All the drinking fountains that did not meet safety standards, which are not currently functional, and/or for which we did not receive test results will be turned off and covered until we receive the final test results confirming that the water is safe. No water fixture will be put back on line unless and until it has passed the testing. We will send out an update once we receive the results of the retesting.”

LEW Corp. Senior Vice President of Operations Greg Krueger pointed out at the June 17 public forum that lead in water is easily broken down and, just because the one fountain shows results above the lead action level does not mean it will again, or even that it would again in a sample taken the following week. He said plumbing work in the area could have dislodged a piece of lead that ended up that in that particular sample. According to Krueger, water tests are like a “snapshot” of the system.

“We realize that these results are confusing,” John Ramos Sr., who was the district’s superintendent of schools at the time, wrote in a July 20 letter to the community. “The Board of Education and district administration continues to have more questions than concrete answers, especially around the variance in the testing results, even within a single water source such as the Seth Boyden water fountain. According to our lead testing company, LEW Corp., lead results can and do vary, depending on a number of often changing factors, including water velocity, temperature and the amount of time water is in contact with the building’s plumbing.

Additionally, the routes that water flows through the plumbing system of the building and the plumbing materials that the water will come into contact with will vary depending on the frequency and duration of the use of the various water fountains and faucets throughout the school.”