newark schools water crisis
Students in a Newark, New Jersey, charter school in 2013. Reuters/Lucas Jackson

Fearing the effects of elevated lead levels in students’ drinking water, New Jersey officials have asked 30 school district buildings in Newark to use alternative water sources. In a joint statement with Newark Public Schools released Wednesday, the state Department of Environmental Protection said recent testing found lead levels to be at “action level” – a threshold requiring additional testing, monitoring and remediation.

Parents have been notified of the elevated lead levels, the Star-Ledger reported. The city’s schools will remain in session, but drinking fountains have been temporarily shut off at the affected schools. Replacement drinking water, as well as cooking water for cafeterias, has been made available from water coolers and cases of bottled water, district and DEP officials said.

"In the vast majority of cases where lead is found in drinking water, it enters through the water delivery system itself when it leaches from either lead pipes, household fixtures containing lead, or lead solder," officials said in a statement. "Parents should have no concerns about students' water and food consumption at the school while the situation is addressed.”

The emergency in Newark comes days after the water crisis in Flint, Michigan, was thrust into the spotlight in presidential debates before the Michigan primary. In Flint, a switch in water distributors in 2014 caused major damage to the city’s infrastructure. Pipes had been leaking dangerous levels of lead into water supplied to homes, businesses and schools.

Childhood Lead Poisoning in New Jersey | HealthGrove

But lead poisoning, which can cause irreparable damage to cognitive function in children, is a problem seen in poor and majority-minority communities throughout the U.S. An advocacy group recently singled out Newark as one of 11 New Jersey communities in which children reported higher levels of lead in their bodies than in Flint, according to the Star-Ledger. However, the higher levels were attributed to young children ingesting lead from paint found in older homes rather than water.

DEP officials in New Jersey said they were working with the state Health Department to sample water and its entry points at all public and charter schools in the Newark district. Meanwhile, the Community Food Bank of New Jersey and other organizations are sending cases of bottled water to the affected schools.