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Lead Paint Poisoning
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Newark Schools Have had High Lead Levels in their Water for Years

Mar 24, 2016

Officials for the Newark Public Schools system recently acknowledged that the water in their schools has contained high levels of lead for years, an effect of government neglect of public schools.

Newark officials began offering blood lead level tests for Newark students who have been drinking water that exceeded the Environmental Protection Agency's safety threshold at 30 of the district's 67 schools, the New York Times reports. But even levels below that standard - 15 parts per billion - are not acceptable, public health experts say. There is no safe amount of lead in water: children exposed to lead can suffer irreversible damage to their neurological systems. Exposure to lead can affect a child's IQ, ability to pay attention, and academic achievement.

Lead in the water, which often comes from old water lines and plumbing fixtures, has been a hazard in school districts around the country, including Washington DC, Seattle, and Los Angeles. Baltimore schools have used bottled water for drinking and cooking since 2007, and Camden, New Jersey has used bottled water for 14 years, the Times reports.

Newark district officials have been aware of the lead hazard as far back as 2004, and they did take some steps to remedy the situation, including installing water filters. The Newark lead crisis has parallels to the ongoing water crisis in Flint, Michigan. Both cities are in financial distress, and both are subject to state control. The Newark school district has been under state control for more than 20 years, according to the Times.

Since most school buildings in cities are old, they tend to have plumbing with significant amounts of lead. It was not until 1986 that Congress set the maximum level of lead in pipes and fixtures at 8 percent, the Times reports; that standard remained in effect until Congress lowered the limit to 0.25 percent starting in 2014. But federal law does not require schools to test their water if they get water comes from a public water utility, which most schools do. Public health officials call for Congress and state legislatures to pass pass laws requiring regular lead testing in school water and public disclosure of the results.

And school districts will need money and assistance from state and federal agencies to fix problems that contaminate the water. In a recent editorial, the Times calls it "absolutely unacceptable" that public schools may be poisoning their children.

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