Voluntary blood testing will begin today for Newark, N.J., public school students, a day after officials announced that lead levels in water at many of district's schools have been elevated since at least 2012.
CNN reports that children in the Newark Public School system's early childhood programs will be the first to receive testing. More than 17,000 students attend schools with elevated lead levels, the district says, but because testing is voluntary, it's not clear yet how many will undergo blood tests.
The disclosure that lead levels have been elevated since at least 2012 comes after revelations last week that water in 30 of the district's schools tested as high as 35 times above the federal action limit for lead.
The district says in a news release that out of about 2,067 water quality samples collected between 2012 and 2015, about 12 percent reflected lead levels above the federal action level of 15 parts per billion.
The Newark Teachers' Union has alleged that the school system knew about lead concerns for years without taking action. "They say only 30 schools are affected, but do you believe them," the union said on its web site.
The union also released a district memo from August 2014 calling for "mandatory daily flushing of drinking water sources to reduce the risk of possible lead contamination."
To "further assure lead levels are at acceptable levels," principals were directed to "instruct students and staff to run each fountain or drinking faucet for two minutes daily prior to the opening of school." Custodians also were directed to run and flush each water fountain for two minutes before the opening of the school day.
Newark School Superintendent Chris Cerf asserted that once the district received 2015 test results showing elevated lead levels, he responded more aggressively than previous administrations.
“Since this concern first came to my attention...district staff, and government partners at the city and state have been working around the clock to better understand this situation and to ensure that it is handled cautiously and responsibly,” Cerf says. “Without intending to criticize any of my three predecessors, when I learned of the 2015 test results, I decided to address the situation differently. Within an hour, I had notified state and city officials and directed staff to connect with the State Department of Environmental Protection....By the time school opened Wednesday morning, we were shutting off all water fountains and other affected sites at any school that had received a positive reading. In addition, state, county and district personnel had delivered 90,000 liters of water to 30 sites..”
Cerf says the district is working with the state on a more extensive water testing plan and is working with the city to provide additional blood level testing.
The district says it has an adequate water supply available through the week of March 21. The district is working to install water coolers in various schools.
“We can assure the community that adequate supplies of water will be available as long as circumstances warrant,” Cerf says.