EDUCATION

Newark Begins Testing Children for Lead Poisoning

By Michael Hill
Correspondent

Lollipops, stickers, registration forms, blood-drawing supplies, medical workers and prohibition signs at shut-off water fountains all greeted Gloria Green at a pre-school. Green was worried about her son who had been drinking the water here where four faucets had elevated lead levels in recent testing.

“I just brought him in today. He started vomiting. I got a little worried because I looked at the symptoms and the signs and thought oh my god,” she said.

It’s one of the signs of lead poisoning but Green says a February blood test showed her son was fine. The pre-school program requires it for enrollment.

“I don’t remember the data off the top of my head but I know there weren’t many cases where per the guidelines from the state where children had elevated levels. Now, we’ll see what these results give but at least we have a baseline for most of the children in the school so that we can look at the difference,” said Nana Ofosu-Amaah, executive director of the Newark Public Schools Office of Early Childhood.

Even parents who’ve had their kids tested recently opted to take advantage of the free testing.

“You know, for the safety of my child,” Green said.

“It’s better to make sure. I actually think they should do testing every year regardless of anything,” said mother Melanie Quiles.

Lead testing every year in a city with old pipes, old buildings and lead soldering, the likeliest source for 30 schools — half the public schools — having elevated lead levels and relying on bottled water for drinking and food preparation.

“It needs to be repaired. The state knows this, it’s just Newark and cities like Newark all over the state so there has to be dollars set aside to do this,” said Newark Mayor Ras Baraka.

“We’re saying every school has contamination,” said Donna Jackson.

Outside last night’s school board meeting, protesters warmed up to challenge the school superintendent and criticize and blame the state-run district for the elevated lead levels.

When order returned, Cerf said Newark — without a state or federal obligation — began voluntarily testing school water in 2004. He said his predecessors didn’t release school lead test results. Instead they issued memos and directives to filter the water and flush the system.

“What was not done was to alert the public at a level of detail about the findings from the test,” he said.

Cerf revealed of nearly 2,100 water samples taken in the schools between 2012 and 2015, 12 percent had lead levels above the federal action level of 15 parts per billion, consistent with the current year.

“I absolutely believe that this is a matter of urgency,” Cerf said.

Today, Gov. Chris Christie urged the public to pay attention to the facts.

“This is a situation that we’re concerned about, but is not a crisis,” he said.

Another pre-school will screen children for lead on Friday while the district said testing for other school children is still being arranged.