Few Newark Children Found to Have Elevated Lead After School Water Scare

High levels of lead found in the drinking water of public schools in Newark do not appear to have caused widespread poisoning of children, the results of blood tests released by the school district indicate.

Of the almost 500 children whose blood was tested at Newark school sites this spring, only one had results above the recommended action level set by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — 10 micrograms per deciliter — according to data released by the school district. Nine other children tested at those sites had lead levels above 5 micrograms per deciliter, which Gov. Chris Christie, a Republican, has set as the threshold for concern for state health officials.

An additional 700 children were tested at hospitals and clinics outside of the schools. The city’s Department of Health and Community Wellness shared the results with the school district. Three of those children had lead in their blood above the 10-microgram threshold; an additional 10 had from 5 to 10 micrograms of lead per deciliter of blood, the school district said.

“These results are consistent with, or slightly lower than, what we would have expected,” based on historical levels in the city, a spokesman for the school district said on Thursday. The results were reported by The Wall Street Journal on Wednesday.

The tests were offered after the district found high levels of lead in water from drinking fountains and faucets at 30 public schools in March. Those findings came to light at the peak of public concern about lead in the water in Flint, Mich.

In Newark, after stocking schools with bottled water, the district had all of the sinks and water fountains in its 66 schools tested for signs of lead contamination. The results compiled so far are in line with the results of annual sampling of the schools’ water over the past several years, district officials said, but the testing has not been completed.

Ingesting lead can be especially dangerous for young children and can affect their behavior and ability to learn. Tainted water is a potential source of lead poisoning, but the ingesting of lead-based paint, which tastes sweet, is a more common source, health officials say.

Newark school district officials said the elevated levels found in its sampling this school year probably were caused by lead pipes or plumbing fixtures in older buildings. Tests of the city’s water supply showed that the water entering the buildings contained no more than trace amounts of lead.

Still, given the heightened concern about lead in drinking water, school officials said they would bar the use of tainted fountains and taps until the problem was solved.

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