Newark, NJ Schools to Test 17,000 Students for Lead Poisoning

(Photo: Creative Commons)

(Photo: Creative Commons)

School officials in Newark, New Jersey are preparing to test students for lead poisoning this week, bu admitted that water in the city's schools has contained lead at high levels for years.

Reports released this week from the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection found levels of lead to be over 15 parts per billion, which is the threshold for taking action, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. This amount was found in roughly 250 samples obtained from water in Newark Public Schools over the past four years, writes The New York Times' Patrick McGeehan.

Much the same levels of lead were found in samples in schools through the past several months, forcing school leaders to shut off drinking fountains and faucets at 30 of the 67 city schools and to bring bottled water to schools immediately.

Superintendent of Newark Public Schools Christopher Cerf said the district and the state are working together to create a system for ongoing testing at schools beginning on Saturday. The project would include researching schools that had not yet been tested and scrutinizing again the 30 school that had already been reviewed.

Cerf has been in the superintendent position since July and became aware of the high levels of lead in the water in Newark's schools last week. He was unable to explain why his predecessors had not reacted to this information, which he found by spending time reviewing earlier reports from past years after he was informed of the problem. Cerf added that Newark schools has had a system of flushing pipes and replacing filters in the pipes since 2004.

Health administrators informed the public that there is no safe level of lead in potable water, and even small levels can lead to behavior problems and learning impediments. Two of the schools in Newark that have early-childhood programs will begin testing students for lead poisoning this week. The city health departments also offer free testing of children for lead poisoning.

WABC-TV's Carolina Leid says parents were enraged at the Wednesday school board meeting in Newark.

"I kept my kids home since Wednesday until yesterday. And I'm still having reservations as of today because it's still not safe to send them to school," said Gwendolyn Booker, a parent.

"Lead, led to all kinds of learning disabilities, it leads to cancer, leukemia, etc. You're very concerned about the health of our children," said Donna, a parent.

After the 2,000 toddlers who attend early childhood centers at the 30 buildings with elevated lead amounts are tested, the city will offer numerous sites away from the schools to test the students who remain, according to Newark Department of Health Director Dr. Hanaa Hamdi.

City officials have pointed out that the Newark levels are nowhere near the Flint, Michigan numbers that are making national headlines, reports Dan Ivers of

The city's teachers union released on Monday what it claims are pictures of expired lead reduction filters in at least 10 of Newark's schools. Currently, faculty and students are using bottled water for drinking and cooking at the 30 affected locations.

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