New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has ordered that all New Jersey's public schools be tested for lead in their water starting next year.
The announcement comes after 30 schools in Newark, New Jersey's biggest city, shut off their water fountains in March after elevated levels of lead were discovered. The lead levels found were 35 times above the federal limit. Gov. Christie said that he will ask the New Jersey state legislature for $10 million to pay for the testing in about 3,000 schools. After testing, the state's education department will publicize each school's results and notify parents immediately.
"This is in response to Newark schools taking a new approach, which was publicizing results of the testing they did," Christie said. "That raised a lot of concern with other parents across New Jersey about were their schools testing, if they were why didn't they know? I think that's a fair observation."
The announcement of new regulations on water comes after Governor Christie was pressed to earmark a $10 million fund in the 2016 state budget to remove lead-based paint for low and middle-income families.
According to Michael Catalini of Newsday, all NJ schools, under current regulations, are required to provide safe drinking water. Christie now says, however, that he is requiring schools to double check their water supplies, and the state will pick up the tab.
Christie also announced that the New Jersey will also adhere to the standards set by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, which lowered the accepted level of deciliters of lead in the bloodstream from 10 micrograms per deciliter to 5 micrograms. By making this adjustment, New Jersey will be among the states with the most stringent requirements on lead regulation.
The governor's announcement were met with praise and surprise across the political spectrum. "It's never too late to do the right thing," said Staci Berger, CEO of the Housing and Community Development Network of New Jersey. "This is a step forward for our families and our most vulnerable children." Even state Democrats, who have criticized Governor Christie for not doing enough to address lead in schools and a host of other issues, had positive things to say about the governor's plans.
New Jersey is one of 17 states to require lead screenings in blood for children between the ages of 1 and 2. Governor Christie cited statistics that report screenings for lead have increased from 10,000 in 1998 to 206,000 in 2015. Encouragingly, the number of children with elevated levels of lead has dropped over this time period. Still, as reported by Maddie Hanna of Philly.com, elevated levels of lead had been detected in about 220,000 children since 2000.
After lead was discovered in the water system of Flint, Michigan, there has been increased public pressure on state and federal officials to regulate lead levels in paint and water, especially in schools. The issue has made its way into the presidential election with both Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders calling on Michigan's governor to resign over his handling of the lead crisis.