NEWARK SCHOOLS: Incidence of contamination was a lot higher last year than this year

Christopher Cerf's solution to poisoned water
Christopher Cerf’s solution to poisoned water

Contamination spiked last year, with dangerous levels found in one of every six samples. The parents of Newark school children were never informed.

Tests at Newark public schools during the 2014-2015 school year showed a 50 percent higher incidence of dangerous lead contamination than were detected this year, according to results released by the Newark Public Schools. Those results were kept from the parents of Newark school children and school employees who never realized they might be drinking poisoned water.

This year’s 10 percent incidence of dangerously high levels of lead, revealed by this site more than a week ago, created the crisis that has frightened and angered parents and led to the shutting down of water supplies in some 30 schools in the state’s largest school district. It also ushered in massive testing of children–perhaps up to 17,000 students.


Emergency water supplies shipped in by the state--note there is no way for children to drink from this.
Emergency water supplies shipped in by the state–note there is no way for children to drink from this.

But in the 2014-1015 school year, the incidence of contamination above the 15.5 ppb (parts per billion) level was 15.27 percent. That’s  one in six samples. The district used a 15.5 ppb standard, slightly higher than the 15 ppb standard used this year, citing “guidance from the federal Environmental Protection Administration.”

The year before, in 2013-2014, the incidence of contamination at dangerous levels was 13.31 percent. The year before, in 2012-2013, it was 6.84 percent.

This is what the percentages mean. The testing contractor samples a number of water outlets–fountains, sinks–in each school. It adds all the samples together and then reports what percentage of those samples contained more than 15.5 ppb levels of lead.

So, in 2014-2015, the contractor took 655 samples. Of those, 84.73 percent were below the 15.5 ppb standard–and so 15.27 percent were above the level considered to “exceed” safety levels. The data also show that 15 samples (2.29 percent)  were above 100 ppb and seven samples (1.07 percent) were above 500 ppb, or more than 30 times above levels considered safe by the federal government.

The NPS document also listed the schools that tested in “exceedance” for two years in a row–the tested levels were above the unsafe standard–in 2014-2015 and 2015-2016.

Those schools were :

:  · Barringer High School  · Benjamin Franklin School  · Berliner School  · Branch Brook School  · Camden Street Middle School  · Carver School  · Cleveland School  · Ivy Hill School  · John F. Kennedy School  · Louise A. Spencer School  · Luis Munoz Marin School  · Maple Avenue Annex · Miller Street School Building · New Jersey Regional Day School  · Newark Leadership Academy  · Newton School  · Old First Avenue/Old Elliott Annex · Old Speedway School  · Ridge Street School (K-1 Annex)  · Ridge Street School (Main Building)  · Roberto Clemente School  · South Seventeenth Street School  · South Street – Weequahic High School–West Side High School.

State-appointed superintendent Christopher Cerf  Wednesday night told an angry crowd of parents, teachers and students that the 2012-2016 results would be posted on the website “early Thursday morning.”

This site was able to obtain them early Thursday evening.

The memo revealing the state knew of lead contamination two years ago
The memo revealing the state knew of lead contamination two years ago

Cerf also offered an average of “about 12 percent” over the four years, which hides the spikes of more than 13 percent in 2013-2014 and 15.27 percent in 2014-2015.

What’s interesting to note is that, at the beginning of the 2014-2015 school year, central office administrators sent out a memorandum indicating that the district would try to cope with lead contamination, not by assuring all new filters at every site, but a “flushing” regime that counted on children to run fountains for a long time before drinking.

The large hike in indents of contamination between the 2013-2014 school year and the following year suggests the “flushing” regime was not very successful.

The district provided these links for obtaining the information:


  • For a summary page of the historical data the district is posting, please see this link:



  • For a link to the data itself, please see this link:



  • For the sampling plan that the district will be conducting in cooperation with the DEP, please see this link:













  1. Baraka is quoted in a NJ Spotlight story today saying he does not believe NPS intentionally keep problem secret.

    So let me tell my own lead in schools story. I was a school board member in North Hanover Township in the late 1980’s – early 1990’s. I worked at NJ DEP at the time in the Hazardous Waste Management program and knew just a little about toxicology and environmental regulation.

    We were a K-6 district that educated military dependents on McGuire & Dix – at the time, there was 1 school in Jacobstown for the local kids and 3 schools on the base for the military kids.

    One Board information packet included lab reports and a memo from the Administration notifying the Board of a lead problem in drinking water fountains on the bas schools and a request to discuss the issue in Executive Session at the upcoming meeting.

    Long story short, I refused to comply with Board/Administration policy and practice to keep Executive session discussion confidential and when the Board went back into public session I advised the public, teachers and parents about the lead problem, our plans to remediate it and the fact that the boar tried to keep the whole thing secret.

    We had a McGuire Air Force full Colonel that served Ex Officio on the Board. After the meeting, he was livid. I recall him getting in my face and poking his finger in my chest, face red as a beet and almost shouting “Who the hell do you think you are? The Air Force takes care of our own. We don’t need EPA and DEP bureaucrats to tell us what to do”.

    The next morning I arrived at work in my DEP office at 9 am to find a memo on the seat of my chair from the DEP Ethics Officer (a lawyer) advising me that I had violated ethics policy by participating in the lead debate. I was told I had a conflict of interest and that I mud recuse myself from all discussions about lead or any othe matter involving DEP (despite the fact that I did not work in Safe Drinking Water program).

    The Ethics memo also directed me to read a specific recusal statement publicly at the next school board meeting.

    Obviously, someone at the Air Force knew someone in the Gov.’s Office o AG’s Office of the DEP Commissioner’s Office because I have never seen anything expounded to so quickly (between 10 pm and 9 am).

    True story.

    And Baraka thinks the school officials did not deliberately keep this secret? He worked in the system and must know better. So who is he protecting and why?

  2. Wasn’t 2013-14 the school year that Cami Anderson was traveling out of district for many days, attending conferences out West?

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