Recently, Newark Public Schools admitted that its water has contained high levels of lead for years. An editorial piece published in the New York Times comments that this news “is shocking but, sadly, not surprising given the neglect of public schools, especially those in poor communities, by Congress and state governments”. The water crisis in Flint, Michigan may have affected as many as 8,000 children under the age of 6. Last month, a NYT article pointed out that Flint is only one of several cities to face water contamination problems.
The Environmental Protection Agency has established a safety threshold of 15 parts per billion for lead. However, even levels below that are cause for concern; experts say there is no safe amount of lead exposure, which can cause neurological damage in children. Out of 67 Newark district schools, 30 have drinking water that exceeded the EPA safety threshold, testing showed. In light of these findings, Newark officials began offering blood tests for elevated lead levels. Over the past four years, lead levels have been high.
District officials have known about lead-tainted water since as early as 2004. The district says it will release results from previous years. Some measures, such as installing water filters, were implemented.
Lead-tainted water often stems from old plumbing. The issue has affected school districts nationwide, including those in Washington, D.C., Seattle and Los Angeles. NYT reports that older plumbing tends to contain higher amounts of lead. Congress did not place a limit on lead levels in pipes until 1986, when it established a cap of 8 percent. In 2014, Congress lowered that maximum to 0.25 percent. The NYT editorial points out that most schools get their water from a public water utility, but no federal law mandates that it be tested.