After elevated levels of lead were found in 9 of the 223 water sources in South Orange-Maplewood Schools in May, the district responded by sending out letters to the community, hosting a community Q&A, and taking steps to remediate the issue.
While initial testing showed a very high level of lead in a water fountain at Seth Boyden School (444 parts per billion), later follow up testing showed results of less than 1 part per billion. (See full letter from the district below, as well as information from the community Q&A).
However, some parents still have concerns. Meanwhile, Maplewood officials stressed that while the amount of lead found in the schools’ water poses a very low threat, parents who are worried should consider having their child tested by their local pediatrician.
“It is almost certain no kids are getting lead poisoning from this water,” said Maplewood Health Officer Robert Roe at last week’s Township Committee meeting. He added that lead paint is a far greater danger, giving “a million times the dosage” children would get from lead in water.
However, Roe stressed, the only way for parents with concerns to be reassured is through testing, which he said the director of the New Jersey Poison Control had recommended. “If I was a parent I would [get my child tested],” said Roe. “…you love your children…and want to know they are not in danger.”
Meanwhile, one community group, SOMA Black Parents, is alleging the district might have “…deliberately concealed the true extent of lead testing, and… [been] neglectful toward the district’s elementary school with the largest Black population in keeping with a pattern of discriminatory behavior toward Black children,” said the group’s leader, Walter Fields.
Fields told Village Green last week that he had been in touch with the NJ Attorney General’s office, which he said is considering meeting with concerned parents. (See the SOMA Black Parents letter to the district below.)
The district responded to Field’s allegations with a strongly worded statement that read in part, “SOMSD has taken lead testing of our drinking water sources very seriously, including testing before school districts were required to test, and working to communicate transparently throughout. We proactively and voluntarily tested all of our water sources in Spring 2016, after news broke of many Newark schools having problems with lead in their water. All SOMSD water sources were cleared as within acceptable levels. We posted the results on our website at the time.” (See the district’s full statement below).
Roe said that he had located a pediatrician in South Orange as well as a federally qualified health center in West Orange who the township would refer parents to if they do not have health insurance. “We want to make sure any parent who wants to have their child tested has that opportunity.”
Roe emphasized, “We have a good, safe water supply.”
SOMSD has taken lead testing of our drinking water sources very seriously, including testing before school districts were required to test, and working to communicate transparently throughout.
We proactively and voluntarily tested all of our water sources in Spring 2016, after news broke of many Newark schools having problems with lead in their water. All SOMSD water sources were cleared as within acceptable levels. We posted the results on our website at the time.
2016-2017 is the first school year that NJ has required all schools to conduct water testing for lead. SOMSD complied with the State’s new requirements, and completed the testing 2 months before the deadline set by the State. Upon receiving results of elevated lead in 9 water sources, SOMSD communicated these results to the full community before 10am on the first business day after receiving them, posted the full results on our website, and have followed up with several written communications, distributed information about lead in drinking water, and a community Q&A session with experts.
This summer, we are planning to replace all of the water sources which had elevated lead levels, and we are installing filtration systems on all of our water sources as a preventative measure. This remediation is above the standard required by the State.”
Here is the full text of the letter sent by SOMSD to the community in June:
Dear SOMSD Community,
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. The report is posted on the District’s website.
The other 8 water sources which had results above the action level of 15 parts per billion were retested this week, as were the 3 sources from SOMS whose original samples were lost and not included in the original report. We expect the results of these tests next week.
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. 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.
Notes from SOMSD’s June 17th Community Question and Answer Session on Lead in Drinking Water are attached.
We will keep the community informed of the status of our lead testing and remediation, as we continue to work to ensure the safety of our students and staff.
Dr. John J. Ramos, Sr.