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High Lead Levels Prompt Newark District to Shut Off School Water Fountains

The Newark, N.J., school district turned off drinking water fountains at 30 schools after tests found elevated levels of lead in some water samples, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection said Wednesday.

Of approximately 300 samples taken in the 30 school buildings during annual testing, 59 showed levels above the federal Environmental Protection Agency's guidelines, which is 15 parts per billion. At that level, additional tests, monitoring, and remediation are required, the agency said.

The state environmental agency advised the district, the state's largest, to "use alternative water sources."

The ongoing crisis over lead-contaminated drinking water in Flint, Mich., remains national news. While Flint has dominated the national consciousness, lead contamination is a problem in many communities. Last week, Michael Wines of the New York Times wrote about Cleveland's struggles with lead-contamination, where, the piece's headline noted, the problem "is even worse" than Flint.

Lead poisoning in children has been linked to learning disabilities and stunted growth. It also affects impulse control.

The New Jersey DEP said Wednesday that it was working with the state health department on a response plan.  Immediate sampling tests will be conducted at all points of entry and at taps at all public school buildings in the city, including charter schools, the agency said. It is also seeking previous years' test results.

"The Newark Public Schools systems has temporarily shut off all drinking water fountains at the schools where elevated levels of lead were recorded," the DEP notice read. "This will remain the case until further tests can be conducted. It is also posting notices in restroom facilities to not drink water from the faucets. Replacement drinking water, from water coolers and bottled water, is available at all impacted schools."

Newark school officials notified the DEP of the test results on Monday. The results ranged from non-detectable in some cases to above EPA guidelines in others.

The tests did not find lead in the city's source water, the DEP said. 

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