Latest round of SOMSD water tests show most sources safe

MAPLEWOOD / SOUTH ORANGE, NJ — In an Oct. 15 update, the South Orange-Maplewood School District reported that it has received the results from its October testing for lead in the schools’ water. Retested were systems that had been offline during previous testings, had been remediated since previous testings or had not returned results in previous testings. According to the results, which the district received Oct. 13, only one source tested above the lead action level — a sink at Columbia High School, which is currently offline.

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 of 15 parts per billion 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.

Following all this work, the district continues to ensure that no water sources in the district are giving out water with lead content above the lead action level. As water sources are found to be safe through testing, the district turns them back on.

“Over the weekend, the facilities department uncovered and turned on water for the additional units that have been confirmed safe, and these units will be available for use beginning (Oct. 16),” an Oct. 15 letter from the school district read. “All schools now have enough safe drinking water sources, so bottled water will no longer be provided.”

The school district also noted that 21 plumbing fixtures are still in the process of repair, remediation or still waiting for test results.

“These fixtures will remain offline until they are cleared as functional and safe to use,” the Oct. 15 letter stated. “Building staff are checking these units daily to ensure that they remain covered and unused.”

The 21 plumbing fixtures still offline are located at Columbia High School, Underhill Field, Seth Boyden School, Tuscan Elementary School, South Orange Middle School, South Mountain School and Annex, and Jefferson Elementary School.

According to the district, there are two ways in which a fixture can be termed “offline.” Either the water at the fixture in question is shut off with a valve at the unit or, if a fixture has no shut-off valves, it is covered, since shutting off the water source for that fixture would result in shutting off all water for entire sections of the building, including restrooms.

Of the 63 results listed in the Oct. 13 report, only one tested above the 15 ppb lead action level; a sink at CHS tested at 18.1 ppb. One other source, a kitchen sink in SOMS, tested at 14.5 ppb, which, although under the lead action level, is pretty close. Otherwise, of the 63 results, 21 tested at between 1 ppb and 12 ppb, and 40 tested at less than 1 ppb.