Last March, Newark made nationwide headlines when elevated levels of lead were found in the water of several public and charter schools. Prompted by this discovery, the NJIT Environmental Health and Safety Department and the Facilities Services Department have since collected 244 water samples from various water fixtures in every occupied building across campus.
The initial round of water testing from late March focused on all residence halls and “older buildings that may have been built or renovated prior to lead standards for use in building materials”, according to Andrew Christ, a senior administrator overseeing all water testing efforts and control plans. A second round of water testing from late April focused on drinking fountains and kitchen sinks throughout occupied buildings like the Campus Center, Van Houten Library, and the Enterprise Development Center. Consistent and thorough testing of water fixtures in all dormitories has been reported throughout the summer.
According to Andrew Christ, only 49 samples of the 244 collected have returned a a lead level higher than the Environmental Protection Agency’s defined action level of 15 parts per billion (ppb) of lead. Even a small amount of ingested lead is dangerous, and a buildup of lead can lead to lead poisoning. A level above 15 ppb of lead in the human body will lead to a host of symptoms, including fatigue, kidney dysfunction, and growth and developmental delays, especially in children.
An Interim Control Plan initiated in Spring 2016 includes measures like installing point-of-use filtration devices, removing from service all fixtures returning levels higher than 15 ppb, and providing alternate sources of drinking water. Since the spring, a second Drinking Water Mitigation Plan has been initiated to focus on entirely replacing unsafe water fixtures (specifically drinking fountains and kitchen sinks) more precise use of water filters, and analyzing the effectiveness of replacements and filters already in place.
All testing results can be found on NJIT’s Environmental Health and Safety site, including more information on the Interim Control Plan and the Drinking Water Mitigation Plan. While the University has not been mandated to perform any of the testing or mitigation efforts that have occurred, they are essential for the wellbeing of the university.