No, Newark is Not Flint: Facts on the Discovery of Lead in 30 Newark School Buildings

Today the New York Times, the Wall St. Journal, A.P., the Star-Ledger, and NJ Spotlight report on the  alarming news that 30 school buildings in Newark have elevated levels of lead. These are all great sources for accurate information However, if you’re getting your information from Bob Braun (here and here), you might think that children are being “poisoned” and that there is a conspiracy afoot among Chris Christie, Superintendent Chris Cerf, and maybe Mayor Ras Baraka to hide indications of contamination and privilege charter schools. (Braun: “Why was only one charter school—co-located at George Washington Carver—affected?”)

Braun also quotes John Abeigon, head of the Newark Teachers Union,who emotes, “This is a direct result of continuing borderline criminal occupation of the city schools by a state appointed administration that is hell-bent on expanding corporate charter schools even if it means neglecting the safety of children and staff in the traditional schools..”

So, the facts. This is not Flint, where lead levels exceeded 13,000 parts per billion (ppb). In Newark the thirty schools' lead levels ranged from 15-ppb-to 100-ppb. (The acceptable cap is 10-ppb.) According to the Department of Environmental Protection,
Parents should have no concerns about their children’s water and food consumption at school because the act of drinking water is usually not 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 agency said.
Superintendent Cerf is exercising appropriate caution by supplying affected schools with bottled water.

Of course, any parent would be alarmed that any water fountain in their child's school contains traces of  lead. But water problems in Newark schools date back far before this current incident.

Last night I had the opportunity to speak with Kim Gaddy, who offered some important historical context.  Ms. Gaddy is running for the Newark School Board as part of the “Unity Slate." (The first debate is tonight at the St. James AME Church; the election is April 19tth)  She is the Environmental Justice Organizer with Clean Water Action of New Jersey and served on the Newark School Board before the state took over the district. In 1993, when she was a board member, her godson was diagnosed with lead poisoning so she brought her concerns to the superintendent at that time, Eugene C. Campbell. Indeed, elevated amounts of lead were found in drinking fountains in a number of Newark’s school buildings.

Ms. Gaddy reports that the district implemented a number of remedial actions, including flushing out the pipes every morning and installing filters on drinking fountains. It is unclear (to me) whether these actions were maintained properly. Ms. Gaddy attributes part of the problem to  transitions from one superintendent to another: Beverly Hall (the first superintendent appointed during state control),  Marion Bolden (forced out, by the way, by former Newark Mayor Sharpe James, who was convicted of  fraud for conspiring to rig the sale of nine city lots to his mistress),  Cliff Janey, Cami Anderson, and Chris Cerf.

Ms. Gaddy met with Cerf two months ago after she started worrying again about lead problems. The Wall St. Journal also reports that  "the district discovered the issue after staff members at the Louise A. Spencer Elementary School in Newark noticed discoloration in the school’s water last week."

Bottom line: the kids are okay, the district is taking appropriate action, and Newark is not Flint. The NY Times notes that "concerned parents can have their children tested for lead at Newark’s Department of Health and Community Wellness."

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