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Newark to Test 17,000 Students for Lead

The Newark Health Director said on Tuesday that 17,000 city children will be tested for possible lead poisoning, NJ.com reported.

This comes nearly a week after school and state officials revealed that elevated lead levels had been detected in drinking water at 30 schools.

According to NJ.com, the tests will begin with 2,000 toddlers who attend early childhood centers at the 30 buildings in which lead levels exceeded federal guidelines.

The city's health director, Dr. Hanaa Hamdi, made the announcement to the Newark City Council. NJ.com said that no timeline had been given for when the testing will begin. Students will be able to opt-out.

The state's departments of Environmental Protection and Health will coordinate the testing effort, a city spokeswoman told the website. 

Last week, officials at the department of environmental protection and the school district announced that drinking water fountains had been shut off at 30 schools after annual tests showed levels of lead that exceed the federal action level of 15 parts per billion. Students at those schools are now using bottled water.

The state DEP is analyzing previous years' test results from the district. The agency also planned to start testing water at all 67 schools this week, beginning first at the 30 schools with high lead levels.

"As part of the plan, every faucet or fountain in a school building where people can take a drink of water and every food preparation sink, will be tested," the DEP said in a statement about its testing plan.

But questions linger about when the district became aware of the potential lead problem and whether it was slow to act.

A 2014 memo emerged last week from Keith Barton, then the executive managing director for operations, that contained advice to some school staff on mandatory daily flushing to reduce the risk of possible lead contaminants. The memo asked principals to advise students and staff to run each fountain or faucet for a minimum of 30 seconds before drinking the water. It also asked custodians to flush each fountain for two minutes a day before the opening of school and the cafeteria staff to run the faucet for two minutes before preparing food.

The Newark Teachers' Union also released photos of what it says are expired lead water filters that were taken last Friday at 10 schools that were not among the 30 with elevated lead in the drinking water.

The union president John Abeigon on Tuesday called for Newark Superintendent Chris Cerf to resign and for the education commissioner David Hespe to accept that resignation. In an e-mail to Hespe, he wrote that Cerf knew there was a health hazard at the schools and "chose to conceal it from the public."

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