On Wednesday, Newark ordered 30 schools- almost half of its school buildings- to shut down their water fountains after lead was discovered in the water.
The water was reportedly being contaminated by lead inside the schools and not from the city water department.
The school system informed the state’s Department of Environmental Protection of the test results on Monday. Since the announcement, water bottles and coolers have been delivered to the schools affected.
According to reports, some students and staff are still uneasy. “They gave us bottled water, (and) told us don’t use the water for lunch,” said one teacher at Weequahic High School, who asked not to be identified. “They’re saying we could wash our hands with it, but I don’t trust that, the kids don’t trust that…This is crazy.”
Mayor Ras Baraka reassured residents that the lead contamination was not comparable to the current water crisis in Flint, Michigan, saying at a press conference Wednesday:
“I understand in the Flint environment that any sign of elevation is going to make everyone go haywire… But here, the water system in Newark is still safe, it’s still drinkable.”
“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,” the DEP said in a statement.
The DEP also says drinking water alone doesn’t typically lead to higher blood lead levels.
The crisis is Flint has exposed an estimated 6,000 to 12,000 children to lead. Lead exposure at a young age can lead to intellectual and physical disabilities in children.
“A lot of our buildings are old,” Baraka said. “That speaks to infrastructure, the reason why we need new schools.”
There are 35,054 students across 66 schools in the Newark Public School System, which is one of the largest and oldest school systems in New Jersey.
Black and Hispanic students comprise 99 percent of the school district’s population.