During spring break, tests for lead levels in drinking water were conducted in the Princeton Public School District. The testing company, New Jersey Analytical Labs, worked in conjunction with the district and Jeffrey C. Grosser, Health Officer of the Princeton Health Department, to regulate the process and confer results from testing.
The recent concern over low water quality follows a national issue over the last four years. Across the United States, 431 schools have tested positive for heavily contaminated drinking water, including 30 schools within the Newark Public School District, which reported high levels of lead after routine testing was completed during the week of March 7. Twelve percent of water samples taken at Newark between 2012–2015 have lead levels above 15 parts per billion, the federal limit for lead levels in drinking water as mandated by the Environmental Protection Agency.The testing at PPS is a precautionary action, rather than a signifier of decreasing water quality. “It’s not because there have been any specific concerns, but it’s being proactive to make sure that the water that is coming out … is still fine,” said Principal Gary Snyder.
The water received by the PPS is tested annually at their sources by water companies to confirm that the water entering schools is safe. However, potential sources for high lead levels lie within the schools’ water systems. For instance, corrosion of pipes due to acidic water could lead to unsafe drinking water. “Water travels great distances through a complex system of pipes and water mains. This testing is being conducted to ensure the water is safe from start to finish,” wrote Grosser in an email. Multiple samples were drawn from drinking water taps throughout the schools, such as water fountains and sinks, in accordance with EPA recommended guidelines.
Members of the faculty across PPS generally agree that the precautionary measures should be taken. “My opinion is yes, you got to test the water because lead is a neurotoxin and it leads to severe mental defects if ingested by developing people and [is] definitely a big bio-hazard,” said Dr. Robert Corell, a chemistry teacher at PHS. “It is something that you need to check for even if there is a remote possibility that it is there.”
Some of the student body also agrees with the precautionary testing. “I don’t know if [water quality] is an issue in Princeton schools. But I think people should be aware of this and thorough water testing should be done to make sure our drinking water is safe,” Nikita Khatri ’17 said.
However, maintaining safe water quality is always a priority. “Increased media coverage of these two incidents has brought drinking water quality to the attention of the public, but water quality control is something local, county, and state health departments are working to protect every day,” Grosser wrote.