Parents in Newark are wondering whether their children have been exposed to dangerous amounts of lead. Since early March, more than half of the 67 district schools have tested positive for high lead levels in the drinking water, and documents shows that the school administration knew about the problem for more than a year.
Last month, Ivelisse Mincey received an automated phone call announcing that lead had been found in the drinking water at Abington Avenue School in Newark, where her 12-year-old son Adam attends. “I put down the phone in an absolute panic,” Mincey said. “My son drinks water from the fountain all day long and now I have no idea whether he is going to have health problems.” Like other Newark parents, Mincey wants to know why the problem wasn’t fixed sooner. “I feel betrayed that the school district didn’t come to me to let me know about this,” she said. “They should have protected my son.”
The lead problem is part of a pattern of school district administrators ignoring the safety of students, according to some residents. For years, parents and community leaders have struggled to ensure the school administration addresses a range of health issues including violence and contamination by asbestos and mold. The district’s students are predominantly African American and Hispanic and some residents say that a lack of political power may have contributed to the failure to address the lead situation and other problems. “The fact of the matter is that people of color don’t have enough political representation to make sure things like lead poisoning don’t happen,” said environmental activist Kim Gaddy, whose 11-year-old son Julian attends Harriet Tubman Elementary School. “We need to make sure that minority students count just as much as white students.”