Christie Orders Lead Tests for All New Jersey Public Schools

In response to growing concern about the presence of lead in drinking water at schools, Gov. Chris Christie on Monday ordered mandatory testing for all New Jersey public schools.

Under the plan, the state would provide $10 million to cover the cost of the testing in 3,000 facilities, and the results would be posted by the school districts.

“People need information so that they can feel safe,” Mr. Christie said at a news conference in Trenton.

Lead awareness — and public anxiety — have been running high since dangerously elevated levels of lead were discovered in the water in Flint, Mich., where the city’s water supply was contaminated, with possibly devastating public health consequences, especially for children.

In March, the continuing dangers of lead were driven home for New Jersey residents when water at 30 of Newark’s 67 schools was abruptly shut off because high levels of the metal had been discovered.

Even as state and school officials sought to reassure nervous parents that they had the situation under control, there were questions about how the problem had been previously handled.

New Jersey has been wrestling for decades with the best way to address concerns about lead exposure. In Camden, for instance, students in the school district have been drinking bottled water since 2002 — a far cheaper response than tearing out swaths of lead piping.

The decision about whether to test water for lead was left to individual school districts. Newark and Jersey City have long required testing in their schools.

In early April, Mr. Christie said he wanted to act cautiously before mandating testing statewide.

“Do we really want the state to be responsible for testing every faucet in every school in the entire state is, I think, a question really worthy of debate and discussion and not jumping to conclusions,” Mr. Christie, a Republican, said at the time.

But on Monday, he said that it had become clear that the state needed to address the concern of parents who were hungry for information.

“This is not about reporting to the state; this is about reporting to the parents,” he said. “I think it is the right thing to do because there is public concern about it.”

Testing would begin before the next school year, with the Education Department working with the Environmental Protection and Health Departments to determine scientifically appropriate protocols for testing and responding to any elevated levels that are cause for concern.

While replacing old pipes in places where elevated lead is found might be prohibitively expensive, Mr. Christie said, using bottled water, as in Camden, could prove a model for other districts.

The governor also announced that the state would strengthen its response to lead exposure.

Currently, New Jersey requires lead testing for all children ages 1 and 2.

Mr. Christie said the state would lower the threshold of blood lead levels that would be a cause of concern — to between five and nine micrograms per deciliter of blood, from 10 micrograms — to match the most recent guidance of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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