Lead detected at Morristown’s Hamilton and Woodland schools; that makes at least five schools so far

The Woodland School. Photo: MorrisSchoolDistrict.org
The Woodland School. Photo: MorrisSchoolDistrict.org

UPDATE/ CORRECTION: As promised, here is additional information — including news about elevated lead levels at the Woodland and Alfred Vail schools–from the Morris School District. An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that the District had not disclosed specific contamination levels; it supplied those details in a communication to parents at the affected schools, and online. Morristown Green regrets the error. Updates are in italics below.

By Kevin Coughlin

Eleven water samples at Morristown’s Alexander Hamilton Elementary School have tested above the maximum contamination level for lead, according to the Morris School District.

The Alexander Hamilton School, new home of the Morris County Winter Farmers Market. Photo by Katharine Boyle.
The Alexander Hamilton School. Photo by Katharine Boyle.

It’s at least the fifth school in the District with elevated levels. The Hillcrest,  Sussex Avenue,   Woodland and Alfred Vail elementary schools are the others so far.

As it gathers more data, the District continues to provide bottled water at all its elementary schools, while implementing “a daily flushing protocol [of water lines] which substantially reduces lead levels and assures only fresh water is being used or consumed, Superintendent Mackey Pendergrast said in a message to parents.

All of the hallway fountains at Hamilton were shown to be safe, Pendergrast said.

Forty-eight samples were taken “from every possible water drinking source, including bathroom sinks” in all hallways and classrooms; Pendergrast said.

The highest reading of the toxic metal,  from an old water fountain in Alexander Hamilton’s room 18, was more than 32 times higher than the federal guideline of 15 parts per billion.

This elevated reading is likely the result of disuse–that fountain has been shut off for five years, causing water to sit in pipes for a long time, Pendergrast said in an interview. This appears to follow a pattern, he said, where little-used fountains exceed the limit.

Water fountains in rooms 16, 27 and 29 were more than double the threshold. (The latter room was nearly five times higher than the .015 action level.)

“We turned these water sources off,” Pendergrast said in his message to parents. 

According to this chart, these samples were “first draws,”  taken after the source had been unused for at least eight hours. Subsequent sampling, after a one- to five-minute “flush,” may show lower levels of lead.


All hallway and classroom water fountains at the Woodland School tested below the federal level, Pendergrast said in a separate message to parents from that school.

An outdoor water fountain disconnected since the fall tested right at the suggested limit, and will be retested after being flushed.

The Woodland School. Photo: MorrisSchoolDistrict.org
The Woodland School. Photo: MorrisSchoolDistrict.org

Sinks in a speech pathology room and in the women’s staff bathroom and girl’s bathroom also exceeded the .015 guideline. A sink in the men’s staff bathroom and a sink fountain in room 1 came close to that number; the fountain has been turned off.

After consulting with Morris Township health officials, the District determined it’s “completely safe” to use the bathroom sinks for hand-washing, because “lead is not absorbed through the skin while washing hands, especially at the aforementioned levels,” Pendergrast told parents.

You can read Woodland’s “first draw” numbers here. They are from samples drawn on April 28, 2016.

At Alfred Vail, one water fountain on the second floor has shown a lead level of .022. That fountain has been shut off, the Superintendent said.

Pendergrast added that the District would continue providing bottled water at all elementary schools, as a precautionary measure.


He asked parents for patience as the District attempts to scientifically gather and evaluate data to determine how to proceed.

“Water quality is a complex issue,” he said. “Following the principle of ‘measure twice and cut once,’  our approach is methodical and deliberate because it is important to have high confidence in our results so that we can create solutions that are permanent and sustainable.”

Morristown Green has requested further details from the superintendent; check back here for updates.

Pregnant mothers, infants and young children are most susceptible to lead’s harmful effects, health officials say.

Too much lead from drinking water and other sources “can cause damage to the brain and kidneys, and can interfere with the production of red blood cells that carry oxygen to all parts of your body,” Morristown Medical Center said in a notice it issued after high lead levels were reported in its private water supply in February.

Lead solder on old copper pipes often is the cause of water contamination. Such uses of lead were banned in the 1980s.

After receiving initial sampling results for all 10 schools in the Morris district back in March, Pendergrast announced plans to test water from every source “where students, parents, or faculty might possibly obtain drinking water.”

After tests found lead levels in 30 Newark schools up to 35 times the federal limit, Gov. Christie announced this month that all 3,000 public schools in New Jersey will start testing their water for lead this year.


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  1. It probably has nothing to do with the politics. It has to do with the newly appointed director at the Water Dept. She has no clue what she is doing or how to run an organization. Furthermore, she replaced all of the experienced staff with people that are her friends. Is it any wonder things are screwed up?

  2. Mayor, officials, let’s get our act together please! This is becoming an embarrassment. Hospitals, schools, etc? What’s next?

    The town and town officials better articulate an action plan soon. How about a little less focus on new developments, bars and restaurants and a little more focus on public health, infrastructure, and education. Thanks