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Christie will require state’s schools to test for lead

May 2, 2016

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — All of New Jersey’s public schools will test for lead in water starting next school year, Gov. Chris Christie said Monday.

Christie said during a news conference that he will ask the Legislature for $10 million to pay for testing in about 3,000 schools starting in the fall.

The announcement comes after 30 schools in Newark, New Jersey’s biggest city, shut off water fountains in March because of elevated lead levels.

“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.”

Here’s a closer look at what Christie is proposing and what’s already in place:

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WHAT’S NEW?

Under current regulations, schools are already required to provide safe drinking water. Christie now says he is requiring schools to test for lead in water and that the state will pick up the tab.

Christie is also requiring the state to follow Centers for Disease Control and Prevention standards for determining elevated levels of lead in the blood, from 10 micrograms per deciliter of blood to between 5 and 9 micrograms. The change, he says, makes New Jersey among the states with the most stringent requirements.

The state’s education department will publicize the test results and notify parents immediately if lead is detected.

Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto said he will examine the governor’s regulatory changes to “ensure they do the right thing.” He added that funding the testing was a “shared goal.”

Senate President Steve Sweeney said he welcomes the governor’s action but added that any contamination should be removed.

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WHAT DON’T THE REGULATIONS DO?

Christie’s proposals won’t require schools to remediate any lead contamination if it’s uncovered. But he says schools already must provide clean drinking water. Schools in Camden, for example, give out bottled water, Christie said.

“This will be up to the school district to decide how they want to remediate. What this does is require them to test,” Christie said.

Federal law requires testing only in schools that run their own water systems.

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WHY NOW?

Christie earlier cautioned lawmakers about overreacting to news that elevated lead levels had been found in half of the school buildings in Newark. What’s changed, he said, was that the state has a better idea now of how much testing will cost.

“I think it’s the right thing to do because there’s public concern about it,” Christie said.

The decision also comes after Christie earlier announced an additional $10 million from existing funds in the current 2016 budget be used to remove lead-based paint for low- and middle-income families. That decision followed pressure from lawmakers to bulk up a dormant fund aimed at remediating homes with lead paint.

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WHAT’S THE STATUS OF LEAD IN SCHOOLS?

New Jersey is one of 17 states to require lead screenings in blood for children between the ages of 1 and 2, Christie said. He also cited data that show screenings for lead in children have gone from about 10,000 in 1998 to roughly 206,000 in 2015, while the number of children with elevated blood levels dropped from 1,481 in 1998 to 898 in 2015.

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