May 24, 2019 | 60° F

New Brunswick public schools test positive for dangerously high lead levels

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Four New Brunswick schools were found to have excessive lead levels at 29 water sources during June and July. The school district has since issued a new report citing that all but two of the sources have been reduced to the average parts per billion of 15.

Four New Brunswick schools tested positive for lead levels upward of 70 times the acceptable amount.

A survey of 335 water sources at New Brunswick public schools revealed that approximately 9 percent — 29 sources — tested positive for excessive lead levels, according to an Open Public Record Act (OPRA) request filed by New Brunswick Today.

Between June and July, the LEW Corporation, an environmental remediation services company, tested water samples from 15 New Brunswick learning centers for levels above 15 parts per billion (ppb). 

It found that select water sources at Paul Robeson Community School, New Brunswick Middle School, McKinley Community School and New Brunswick High School superseded this number, according to the document. 

Three samples taken from New Brunswick Middle School tested 75.7, 42.4 and 19.2 ppb. 

Nine of 15 over-the-limit samples taken at Paul Robeson Community School tested above 100 ppb with the highest being 1,110 ppb, according to the report.

At McKinley Community School, 10 samples surpassed the limit with the highest concentration at 381 ppb. 

New Brunswick High School had one water source with an excess of 36.4 ppb despite having the most samples taken, according to the report.

Even at low levels of lead exposure, children may experience lower IQ levels, impaired hearing, reduced attention span and poor classroom performance, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). 

The results of the report were delayed by approximately a month despite reassurance from the New Brunswick Board of Education that it would provide the report on its website before school resumed on Sept. 6, according to New Brunswick Today

New Brunswick Today cited Frank LoDolce, director of Facility Design and Construction at the Aug. 21 meeting commenting on the success of the preliminary results. 

"Right now, the preliminary results are very good," LoDolce said at the meeting. "I will review it with the board and we'll put it on the website and we'll have that done before school starts."

The EPA recommends that outlets found to exceed 15 ppb be immediately discontinued followed by secondary flush samples that further trace the source of contamination, according to the updated report.

On Sept. 13, one week into the school year, the New Brunswick Public Schools site updated the status of its water testing with its initial lead tests — that indicated its 29 water sources were "over the action level for lead" — and an updated test that shows only two remaining water sources are above 15 ppb, according to the New Brunswick Public Schools site. 

“The majority of the hits on our first round of testing performed this summer occurred in fixtures that had been out of service or unused for extended periods of time,” said Superintendent of Schools Aubrey A. Johnson. 

Johnson added that water testing will continue on an annual basis despite state regulations that require testing only once every six years. 

New Brunswick Middle School’s Kitchen Kettle 1 still has a ppb concentration of 25.2 while Room 204 at Paul Robeson Community School has a ppb of 16.9, according to the report. They are the only two water sources listed still above the recommended ppb.  

There is also nothing listed for New Brunswick High School’s cafeteria sink and kitchen pot. The kitchen pot initially had a 36.4 ppb, and the cafeteria sink is a new addition. 

“We immediately retested all fixtures that showed a presence of lead and were able to remedy the majority of them prior to the start of school. The remaining 12 fixtures that could not be remediated were immediately taken out of service before the start of the school year,” Johnson said.

Editor’s Note: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that the lead levels in Paul Robeson Community School were 1,000 times the mandated level. The correct measurement was updated in this version.

Christian Zapata

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