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Water fountains shut off at 30 N.J. schools after elevated levels of lead found

By Doug G. Ware   |   Updated March 10, 2016 at 6:31 AM

NEWARK, N.J., March 9 (UPI) -- New Jersey school officials said Wednesday that elevated levels of lead have been discovered in the drinking water supply that goes to students in Newark -- but emphasized that is doesn't pose a serious health risk.

Officials said the elevated lead levels have been in water used by nearly half of the city's schools, but it wasn't immediately clear how long the water has been compromised.

School and health officials detailed the situation at a news conference Wednesday and said 30 schools were impacted by the contaminated water. They were quick to distance comparisons to Flint, Mich.

"That is absolutely not the case. ... It's still safe, still drinkable." Newark Mayor Ras Baraka said, adding that he believes comparisons to Flint are "irresponsible."

"I understand in the Flint environment any sight of elevation is going to make everyone go haywire."

Nonetheless, school officials cautioned that elevated levels of lead in drinking water still creates a situation that warrants extreme caution.

Water fountains at all 30 schools were turned off and students have been ordered not to drink the water.

"We have a difficult needle to thread here. In an abundance of caution we are going the extra mile here," Newark Schools Superintendent Chris Cerf said. "I don't mean to make this sound anything less than urgent."

School officials were first advised of the problem last week when staff members at a school noticed the drinking water was discolored.

Like the contamination in Flint, though, the lead levels are likely the result of old infrastructure.

"A lot of our buildings are old," Baraka said. "That speaks to infrastructure, the reason why we need new schools."

Some advocates have lobbied for the state to test every student in the affected schools for potential lead poisoning -- a process all parents may not have the resources to commission on their own.

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