POISONING NEWARK’S SCHOOLS–Did children drink lead-tainted water for “years”?

Frank, Baraff, Mayor Ras Baraka's communications director.
Frank, Baraff, Mayor Ras Baraka’s communications director.

“Quite possible,” says City Hall aide.

Newark Mayor Ras Baraka’s chief spokesman blamed the state administration for the contamination of  water in city schools and said it was “quite possible” children have been exposed to the poisoned water for “years.” He called the lead crisis ” yet one more example of how state control has neglected and failed Newark’s children.”

Frank Baraff, recently named Baraka’s communications director, said a memorandum unearthed by the Newark Teachers Union was proof the state-appointed regime running the schools “that people within the NPS have know about a lead problem since at least 2014.”

The memorandum was written  by Cami Anderson, the previous state-appointed superintendent of the Newark schools and a former New York colleague of Christopher Cerf, now the state-appointed superintendent. Cerf was state education commissioner when he appointed Anderson to the Newark position and closely guided her work, approving many of her decisions–including those affecting spending on school maintenance.

The district has been under direct state control since 1995.

Cerf has so far flatly refused to answer questions about the lead contamination in the city’s public schools.  Until Baraff’s statement–posted as a comment to an earlier blog here–City Hall has gone easy on Cerf’s bungling of the water crisis, failing to challenge the state’s official’s assurances that the contamination is  not as serious as many parents fear.

Baraff used much stronger language than either Baraka or Cerf did during a Wednesday press conference, calling the contamination “a threat to the children and anyone else drinking the water in the affected schools.”

Said Baraff, “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 …”

He said City Hall was awaiting the receipt of an analysis of prior water testing in the schools from the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).

Baraff’s statement came in response to a posting by a reader who raised questions about the safety of drinking water in the city. Baraka has insisted the problem is in the schools,  not in the city’s water supply.

” 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,” said Baraff. “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.”

Baraff’s explanation of how the water came to be contaminated is still  not the comprehensive explanation many parents believe they need to ease their fears about possible lead poisoning of their children. For example, the 30 affected public schools are not all old–and not all old schools are affected.

In any event, schools–like houses–built in the 19th Century can be, and should be, retrofitted with copper pipes as part of a regular maintenance plan.






  1. I would respectfully request that the Baraka administration provide documentation that delineates the lead levels in the fifty tested locations.

    What is the lead level of water in charter schools?

    Will a return to local control of the district magically remove the lead from the water in affected schools?

    Sent from my iPhone

  2. Mr Braun,
    I checked Newark Students Union posts to see their reaction to lead/water crisis. Saw they started a Go Fund Me page to raise money to attend the National Public Education 2016 conference this spring. Last year an NSU officer spoke eloquently at an NPE session. Could you please make your readers aware of their site? Small donations add up. Thank you.

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