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Lead Scare over Water in Newark Schools Underscores NJ’s Toxic Problem

Thursday, March 10, 2016   (0 Comments)
Share | 3/10/2016

High levels of lead found in the water at 30 Newark public schools, which forced authorities to switch to bottled water for thousands of students, is just the latest sign that the state is far from resolving this problem, advocates said yesterday. The findings, detected in annual testing of fountains, taps and faucets in the school system’s 65 buildings, triggered an emergency response by city, state, and other agencies, compelling them to truck in alternative water sources overnight Tuesday. The elevated levels were first reported to school officials Friday and confirmed over the weekend. New Jersey has its own lead problems, chiefly caused by exposure to now-banned lead paint peeling in older homes primarily located in urban areas. In 2014, more than 3,000 children under age 6 were found to be suffering from lead poisoning, according to Department of Health data. Of 14,030 tested in Newark, 770 or 5.7 percent had elevated blood levels. In Camden, the local school district switched to bottled water after lead was found in its system. In Newark yesterday, Mayor Ras Baraka, school officials, and state Department of Environmental Protection representatives, sought to reassure residents and parents that the problem is being addressed and to minimize the health risks posed by the lead levels found in the schools. The high levels of lead probably were a result of old lead plumbing, service lines, and lead solder from the street to the buildings, according to officials. For the past few years, Newark has been adding a corrosive agent to drinking water to prevent lead leaching from the fixtures. It also has installed filters on water fountains. Of the samples tested that were found to be above the 15-ppb action-level set by the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), most were found to be in the 15-ppb-to 100-ppb range, Cerf said. The highest level detected was 558 ppb at Bard High School. None of the buildings had more than four samples with levels above the action level, Cerf said. Other elected officials said the problem indicates the need to fix the state’s crumbling infrastructure.

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