Newark Schools Want to Test Students’ Blood for Lead

The Newark public school system is seeking permission to conduct blood tests on students.

By Michael Hill

NJTV News has learned from the Newark Health Division that Newark schools plan to seek the consent of parents of students to conduct blood testing for lead in the 30 schools with elevated lead levels on Tuesday.

Joey Barreiro applauds the decision. His son is in kindergarten at Wilson Avenue School where one faucet had a lead level 13 times higher than the EPA threshold for action.

“If they provide it, fine. If not, I’m on my own and I’m going to take care of it,” he said.

High lead levels in New Jersey children was common in the early ’70s.

“Over 50 percent of the children that we screen had elevated lead levels and at that point the lead level that we considered elevated was almost 10 times what we consider it now. We’re now down under 5 percent, so there’s been a dramatic improvement,” said Dr. Steven Marcus.

Dr. Marcus is a pediatrician and executive director of the New Jersey Poison Information and Education System at Rutgers.

Dr. Marcus says New Jersey is one of 17 states that required lead testing of children. He cautions against faulting the schools or city if those blood tests next week show lead poisoning because he says someone would have to consume a lot of the contaminated water and for a long time for it to reach that stage.

“I think we’re going to pick up some children that have been missed. And that’s going to be very good for those children because we’re then going to be able to intervene,” he said.

But if the damage has been done, Dr. Marcus said, “Brain damage, the intellectual damage, that’s permanent.”

Across the state, districts have tested for lead in their drinking water.

An Asbury Park School District spokesperson said in 2009, “All tests results came back normal … Per district protocol, we annually obtain water quality reports … to ensure levels are permissible.” 

A spokesperson for Paterson noted that last year, “a large percentage of the outlets tested were within or well below the threshold limit. For any outlets/water fountains that are found above the threshold, they are placed out of commission until repairs are made.”

And Camden says, “All of our buildings use bottled water and have for years.”

Virginia Tech’s Marc Edwards was on the research team that discovered the super high lead levels in Flint.

“People would be stunned if they knew what was in their children’s school drinking water around the country. Probably half the schools out there have problems. There is no law to protect kids from lead in drinking water,” he said.

Sen. Bob Menendez has an infrastructure bill in the finance committee. He says once approved, it would be money to replace America’s aging water infrastructure while one crisis happens after another.

“And no child should ultimately have their future stunted,” Menendez said.

Today, ShopRite answered the mayor’s call and delivered more than 38,000 bottles of water to John F. Kennedy Rec Center after the city cut off the drinking water at 30 affected schools.

“So we saw it as an opportunity to demonstrate our commitment to the community,” said ShopRite of Newark owner Neil Greenstein.

The Department of Environmental Protection and Newark Public Schools have announced they will begin testing for the presence of lead in water in all of the Newark public school system’s 67 buildings. Every faucet and drinking fountain will be tested. The DEP expects to begin getting results a week after testing begins.

The DEP has obtained full lead testing data from the school system for the previous four years and says it will now analyze those numbers to get a better sense of where there may have been elevated lead levels in the past and how the situation was addressed. The DEP is coordinating with the public schools to ensure that they have enough water to last through the end of the month.

The DEP again emphasized the water in Newark is clean and safe to drink.

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