Drinking Water in Newark Schools Known to Have Lead Problem at Least 6 Years Ago

Drinking water in Newark Public Schools was found to contain high levels of lead at least as far back as six years ago, according to data collected and analyzed then but released to the public for the first time on Friday.

About one in eight water samples taken from the city’s public schools during the 2010-11 and 2011-12 academic years contained lead above 15 parts per billion, the federal Environmental Protection Agency’s threshold for taking action to remediate the problem. That conclusion came from Newark school officials, who drew attention a month ago to the problem of elevated lead levels in the water in about half of the city’s schools.

In early March, the district’s superintendent, Christopher Cerf, ordered water fountains turned off in 30 schools with high lead levels and had bottled water distributed to the campuses’ students and employees. Since then, the district has hired several laboratories to sample the water in all of the district’s buildings and retest the water in schools where it has been sampled for several years.

Last week, the district released the results of new tests of the water in eight school buildings that house charter schools or serve some purpose beyond academics, such as transportation or recreation. Nearly 25 percent of those samples had lead concentrations above the federal threshold, but only about 5 percent of the samples of drinking water had such high levels.

After testing those buildings, the labs collected new water samples from the 30 schools where high lead levels were found during annual tests this year. Those results “will be shared in the coming weeks, as they become available and are analyzed for accuracy and quality,” the district said on its website.

Newark Public Schools said on Friday that its review of records of past water testing and the district’s responses demonstrated that “the district has had protocols in place to both mitigate and respond to elevated levels” of lead in its drinking water “since at least the early 2000s.” It also characterized the data from five and six years ago as “consistent” with sampling data from the subsequent four years, which it released last month.

Mr. Cerf has said the district will shut off any source of drinking or cooking water in the schools that is found to have a high concentration of lead. The most likely origin of the lead is old plumbing, but it is not clear where the district would obtain the money to replace it.

Health experts say that ingesting lead can cause behavioral and learning problems, especially among young children.

Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey, a Republican, said last week that “there is no danger in Newark at the moment.” But some state lawmakers have called for more public money to be spent on testing water and remediation.

On Monday, Representative Donald M. Payne Jr., a Democrat whose district includes Newark, plans to hold a news conference with the city’s mayor, Ras Baraka, and State Senator Ronald L. Rice, both of whom are also Democrats. He plans to call on Congress to pass a bill he introduced that would require states that receive federal funding for safe-water programs to help schools test drinking water for lead.

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