District shuts off more water sources in response to lead testing

SOUTH ORANGE / MAPLEWOOD, 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 and now being retested. Since then, the district has reportedly shut off 21 others fixtures just to be safe, as these sources were not included in the second round of testing.

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 — although 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.

Additionally, during the summer, the district remediated all plumbing fixtures that 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,” a Sept. 5 letter from the SOMSD 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.”

A Sept. 23 letter from the SOMSD brought more information to the community.

“In a review of the testing results, the district identified 21 plumbing fixtures that were not tested in August,” the Sept. 23 letter read, adding that these fixtures had undergone remediation work during the summer. “This included two fixtures which tested positive in May and were taken offline. One of these fixtures was completely replaced and the other fixture was filtered during the summer, but neither was retested. All 21 systems were immediately turned off and covered once we uncovered new information on Thursday, September 21.

“There are two ways in which a fixture can be termed offline,” the Sept. 23 letter read. “One is the water at the fixture in question is shut off by a valve at the unit. The other is when a fixture has no shut off valves and has to be covered, since shutting the water source for that fixture would result in shutting off all water for entire sections of the building, including restrooms.”

Since the initial findings of elevated lead content in May, the district has remediated more than 225 plumbing fixtures, rather than just the nine, which were required by code.

“It should be noted that, with the exception of the nine fixtures taken offline, the over 200 fixtures which were replaced over the summer were replaced by district choice,” the Sept. 23 letter read. “They were operating and met all state and local safety requirements in May and June and could still be on-line without remediation today. The district took extensive measures by remediating or replacing all the old fixtures over the summer in order to provide safe drinking water for the children. We will continue to work with staff and the contractor, and to keep the community informed of the steps taken to ensure safe drinking water for all of our schools.”

According to the district, the 19 water fixtures were remediated during the summer, not included in the Aug. report and found to be providing water when inspected; they have since been turned off and covered. Another system had been removed when August testing was conducted and a new system was installed on Sept. 19; while the system had been active, it has since been turned off and covered pending testing. Additionally, one water source that had not been working during the August testing but which was subsequently repairs, has also been taken offline pending further testing.