Thirty Newark Public Schools have been ordered to use alternate water supplies as a result of water tests showing elevated lead levels, Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) officials announced in a joint release with Newark Public Schools Wednesday.
According to the announcement, Newark schools notified the DEP on Monday that 30 of their buildings had recorded elevated levels during required annual testing recently conducted.
Some levels were found to be higher than the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) “action level” for lead, which is the threshold requiring additional testing, monitoring, and remediation.
The action level is 15 parts per billion (ppb).
Upon receipt of these findings, the DEP requested test results from previous years to perform a complete analysis, and said in an additional statement that no building had more than four samples above the action level, and that it was unlikely that lead was not present in the city’s water supply.
“In the vast majority of cases where lead is found in drinking water, it enters through the water delivery system itself when it leaches from either lead pipes, household fixtures containing lead or lead solder,” the department said.
The situation immediately drew comparisons to the crisis in Flint, Mich, which began after the city switched from the Detroit water system to the Flint water as a cost-efficient alternative in 2014. Lead from aging pipes leached into the drinking water because it was not treated with anti-corrosion chemicals.
There is widely perceived to be deliberate negligence on the part of local and state government in making the public aware of these toxicities, especially after a report surfaced that state workers had been receiving bottled water since January 2015.
“I understand in the Flint environment that any sign of elevation is going to make everyone go haywire, but here, the water system in Newark is still safe, it’s still drinkable,” said Newark mayor Ras J Baraka at news conference Wednesday, before asking for cases of water to be donated to the schools.
The agency stressed that despite these findings parents should have no concerns about their children’s water and food consumption at school, because the act of drinking water is not typically associated with elevated levels of lead in the blood on its own. “It is the buildup of lead from all sources over time that determines whether harmful health effects will occur,” the DEP said in its statement.
Nonetheless, the state chapter of the Sierra Club called for more testing and pipe replacement.
“New Jersey cities have old, outdated pipes in our streets and homes, which can mean even higher levels of lead in our water,” Jeff Tittel, the group’s director, said. “Many of our water systems go back to the Victorian era, and even homes built in the ’30s and ’40s have pipes made with lead solder.”
An advocacy group recently cited Newark as one of the 11 municipalities in New Jersey in which reported child-cases of lead levels higher than those in Flint were present.
The list of schools affected can be found here.