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Lead Contamination Causes: How Does Lead Get Into Water?

Many schools in New Jersey have drinking water with high levels of lead.

Water for most school systems comes from a municipal water supply which is regularly tested for lead. If lead is in the water at a school, it’s likely to come from a source inside the school. That source is a combination of lead-containing pipes, fixtures or solder along with water corrosive enough to leach the lead into the water. Lead can be found in some metal water taps, interior water pipes or pipes connecting a school to the main water supply under the street. Lead can come from corroded, older sink fixtures or from the solder that connects pipes. If water sits in leaded pipes for several hours, lead can leach into the water supply. The amount of lead that may dissolve in water can also depend on the water temperature. Congress passed the Safe Drinking Water Amendments Act in 1986. It banned the use of lead-containing pipe, solder or flux in public water systems. Many New Jersey schools were built before 1986 and how much lead-containing pipes and solder are in those schools is unknown. The most common cause of lead leaching into drinking water is corrosion, a reaction between the water and the lead pipes or solder. Dissolved oxygen, low pH (high acidity) and low mineral content in water are common causes of corrosion. One factor that may increase corrosion is the practice of grounding electrical equipment (such as telephones) to water pipes. Any electric current traveling through the ground wire will accelerate the corrosion of lead in pipes. What caused the problems of high levels of lead in the water of Flint, Michigan, was switching from a less corrosive water supply from Detroit to more corrosive water from the Flint River. Flint didn’t suddenly have more lead pipes and lead-containing solder; it had more corrosive water leaching lead from existing pipes and solder. An unheeded warning sign of future problems was that General Motors stopped using Flint water in one of its factories in 2014 because it was too corrosive to auto parts. Detecting lead in drinking water can only be done through water testing. Lead cannot be seen, tasted or smelled in drinking water. What causes lead poisoning? High levels of lead in drinking water may cause serious health effects if the lead goes into the bloodstream, causing an elevated blood lead level. Though the problem of high lead levels in New Jersey schools has recently gotten in the news, the school system in Baltimore, Maryland, has long dealt with the issue, according to NPR. Due to the high cost of removing plumbing and fixtures that may spread lead into water, bottled water is Baltimore’s long-term solution to the problem of high lead levels coming out of taps and drinking fountains. The city first found elevated lead levels in schools in 1992, a few years after the federal Environmental Protection Agency discovered problems caused by lead-lined water fountains and required schools to address it. Contaminated fountains were turned off, but many were later turned back on. Baltimore found protecting children from lead in drinking water was a huge and costly task and nearly impossible to do completely unless they replaced every single piece of lead-containing plumbing. The city opted instead for bottled water starting in 2007. At the time, the $675,000 annual bottled water bill was the most cost-effective solution. Los Angeles’ school system is another that’s confronting high lead levels in their water. In 2008 the system stated that custodians would flush drinking water every morning in the hopes that contaminated water sitting for long in pipes would go down the drain. Over time, many custodians failed to do the job and many daily logs supposedly showing this had been done were found to be incorrectly filled out. Flushing is again a priority — but not a solution. The school district has found clearing lead out of its water is incredibly complicated despite the fact that they don’t have lead water pipes. Some of the highest lead concentrations come from new schools.

  • Low-maintenance brass fittings used for water for new water fountains can leach lead.
  • Water fountains located on the far side of playgrounds, away from school buildings, require smaller pipes, don’t get used as often, leading to more lead building up in the water.

The Los Angeles school board recently put aside $20 million to fix these two issues. It’s hoped that in 18 months the district will no longer have to rely on flushing fountains to keep lead levels down. New Jersey Law OfficeLead contamination in school drinking water is caused by many factors; but no matter the cause, it’s a problem New Jersey schools need to address to protect the health of students, employees and those visiting schools.
If you believe your child has been injured due to lead exposure in school drinking water, please call right away for a free initial consultation, 1-855-432-2489. If we agree to handle your case, we will work on a contingency fee basis, which means we get paid for our services only if there is a monetary recovery of funds. In many cases a lawsuit must be filed before an applicable expiration date, known as a statute of limitations, so contact us without delay.

Contaminated Water in New Jersey

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