POISONING NEWARK SCHOOL CHILDREN: Ten questions that were not asked and answered

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

UPDATE: Montclair’s Christopher Cerf, the state-appointed superintendent of Newark’s schools, has refused to answer detailed questions about the poisoning of Newark’s school children with lead-contaminated water.

Ten relevant questions about the causes, extent, and duration of the crisis–along with specific questions about who knew of the contamination and  when they knew it, were sent to Cerf’s publicity agent, Dreena Whitfield. She responded late Thursday with a general statement promising Cerf’s cooperation with providing clean drinking water to the thousands of students affected by the crisis.

Bob Braun’s Ledger sent this response to Whitfield:

“Dear Ms. Whitfield:

“Thank you for your response to my email. The response, however, failed to answer any of the questions I posed. I did not ask for a statement promising to do something about the problem. I asked for specific answers about the causes, extent, and duration of the poisoning of Newark school children through lead contamination. I know you know you have not answered the questions.

 

“To help you perform your duties as the public information officer for the Newark Public Schools, paid to keep the public informed—especially in times of crisis–I am repeating the questions. Here they are, as revised. Because you have had more than a day to respond, I would expect a responsive answer by the end of the work day, Friday, March 11, 2016:

 

  1.  What caused the contamination?
  2. Which NPS officials were notified of the extent of the contamination and by whom and when and how were they notified?
  3.  If the answer to Question #2 involves a private contractor, please provide the name of that contractor.
  4. Were only  these 30 schools tested? If so, why? Why were so many schools—nearly half—tested at one time?
  5. Some of these schools have up to 30 times the acceptable level of lead. How long do you estimate has lead been in the these schools to cause such a high level of contamination? Why wasn’t action taken before now?
  6. Do you have an estimate of how many children and adults drank contaminated water?
  7. In his letter to “NPS Family Members,” Christopher Cerf provides no explanation for the high lead levels. Why not? Why did he wait so long to announce the problem? In his press conference, Cerf mentioned testing in December–what were the results of that testing?
  8. Why won’t you close the schools until the cause of the contamination is found and eliminated?
  9. Is the high level of lead related in any way to the budget crisis facing the Newark public schools? Are you satisfied pipes and other water conducting and storage facilities have been adequately maintained?
  10. Why was only one charter school—co-located at George Washington Carver—affected? How do you make sure the water in charter schools is safe? Why can’t these same procedures be used for traditional public schools?”

This site also forwarded a copy of that note and the questions to David Lippman, Newark Mayor Ras Baraka’s press advisor, with this introduction:

“Dear Mr. Lippman:

“On Wednesday, March 9, this site sent a list of 10 questions concerning the contamination of drinking water in 30 Newark public schools to the press spokeswoman for Christopher Cerf, Dreena Whitfield. As should be immediately obvious, Ms. Whitfield’s answer was not responsive. I know the mayor has expressed deep concern about the possibility that, perhaps, thousands of Newark children, may have been poisoned by lead contamination in the city’s public schools. To the extent possible, I hope you will provide responsive answers to these same questions. Thank you.”

This is the original article about the questions appearing Wednesday:

Bob Braun’s Ledger sent the following questions–with some revisions– to Dreena Whitfield, the public information director at the Newark Public Schools.  As soon as I receive answers, if I receive answers, I will publish those answers.

State-appointed sup[erintendent Christopher Cerf, Newark Mayor Ras Baraka and other state and local officials held a press conference today, Wednesday, to answer questions about the lead crisis in the Newark schools. For an official, mainstream media version of those questions and answers, check out, among others, this report from The Star-Ledger.

But I am a grandparent of a public school child. If my child were affected by this, I would have a lot more questions  and I would demand they be answered. This is what the parents and school employees of Newark need to know:

 

  1.  What caused the contamination?
  2. Which NPS officials were notified of the extent of the contamination and by whom and when and how were they notified?
  3.  If the answer to Question #2 involves a private contractor, please provide the name of that contractor.
  4. Were only  these 30 schools tested? If so, why? Why were so many schools—nearly half—tested at one time?
  5. Some of these schools have up to 30 times the acceptable level of lead. How long do you estimate has lead been in the these schools to cause such a high level of contamination? Why wasn’t action taken before now?
  6. Do you have an estimate of how many children and adults drank contaminated water?
  7. In his letter to “NPS Family Members,” Christopher Cerf provides no explanation for the high lead levels. Why not? Why did he wait so long to announce the problem? In his press conference, Cerf mentioned testing in December–what were the results of that testing?
  8. Why won’t you close the schools until the cause of the contamination is found and eliminated?
  9. Is the high level of lead related in any way to the budget crisis facing the Newark public schools? Are you satisfied pipes and other water conducting and storage facilities have been adequately maintained?
  10. Why was only one charter school—co-located at George Washington Carver—affected? How do you make sure the water in charter schools is safe? Why can’t these same procedures be used for traditional public schools?

 

 

 

7 comments

  1. Pingback: News Roundup & Open Thread for Thursday, March 10, 2016 | Blue Jersey
  2. Walt

    Imagine if the water in the schools of Mendham, Montclair, Or Montgomery contained lead at 30 times (or even AT the “acceptable” levels).
    Very sad reflection of who were are…
    A very shameful day and situation for New Jersey.

  3. booklady

    This leaves many of us speechless.
    Kudos to the people who have gotten potable water to the schoolchildren.

    Just curious, what credentials does it take to become public information officer for a school district? Per the 3-14-13 “Mayor Booker Employs Fifth PR Person in Less Than a Year” NJTV News item Deena Whitfield is “a self-described former fashionista and PR person for Cory Booker’s non-profit Newark Now.” Just what NJ taxpayers were hoping for–a former fashionista to work for Newark Public Schools. (Maybe for a vocational clothing or textile design course).
    Bob, Is it a special jobs program–Cory Booker gets his former campaign strategist Cami Anderson named State Appointed Superintendent. She names his former PR person to NPS.

  4. Pingback: Links 3/12/16 | Mike the Mad Biologist
  5. Abigail Shure

    Newark Mayor Ras Baraka vouched for the safety of drinking water in the city.

    New Jersey Health Department cited Newark children under the age of six for having the highest blood levels of lead in large US municipalities in 2013 – 2014.

    Thirty Newark Public Schools closed down drinking water sources under the direction of State District Superintendent Christopher Cerf.

    A memo from former State District Superintendent Cami Anderson from August 2014 recommended running water prior to drinking.

    Is the water in Newark safe to drink? Are elevated levels of lead restricted to the Newark Public Schools?

    Abigail Shure

    Sent from my iPhone

    • Frank Baraff

      Ms. Shure-
      The Newark Department of Water and Sewer Utilities regularly tests the city’s water supply at 50 different sample points throughout the city and over many years of testing, no elevated lead levels have been found in the water that serves Newark homes and businesses. Hence, Mayor Baraka’s statement that Newark’s water is safe.

      Once the city’s water flows into the old pipes in many Newark schools, it flows in many cases through lead pipes and fixtures containing lead-based solder. That is how lead leaches out of the pipes and into the water in the schools causing a threat to the children and anyone else drinking the water in the affected schools.

      To be absolutely clear, the problem affects many schools but not the rest of Newark’s drinking water.

      The 2014 memo from Cami Anderson makes it clear that people within the NPS have know about a lead problem since at least 2014. It is quite possible that the problem existed years before that and we are awaiting the analysis by the DEP of pre-2014 lead test results in the water of Newark schools.

      For more than a generation, Newark public schools have been under state control and the lead in the water is yet one more example of how state control has neglected and failed Newark’s children.

      Frank Baraff, Director of Communications, City of Newark

  6. Pingback: POISONING NEWARK SCHOOL CHILDREN: Ten questions that were not asked and answered | | birthfatherssupportnetwork

Post a comment

You may use the following HTML:
<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

Time limit is exhausted. Please reload CAPTCHA.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.