New Jersey to start testing 17,000 school children for lead poisoning

FILE - In this Jan. 21, 2016, file photo, the Flint River is shown near downtown Flint, Mich. Flint's water became contaminated with lead when the city switched from the Detroit municipal system and began drawing from the Flint River in April 2014 to save the financially struggling city money. Darnell Earley didn't come up with that plane, which caused a health emergency. And he certainly can't be blamed for the Detroit school system's decaying facilities and wrecked finances, which have prompted teacher boycotts this month. But the 64-year-old budget expert was in charge of Flint's city government and the Detroit schools at key points in their recent turmoil, and that has made him a focal point of anger about Gov. Rick Snyder's use of "emergency managers" to temporarily run public entities in Michigan that are hopelessly in debt. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya, File)

NEWARK, N.J. (AP) — Newark will test up to 17,000 children for lead poisoning after elevated levels of the toxin were found in the drinking water at nearly half of the schools in New Jersey’s biggest city.

City Health Director Hanaa Hamdi told officials Tuesday that testing will start with some 2,000 toddlers who attend early childhood centers. A specific date hasn’t been set yet to get blood samples from the children.

Lead is known to severely affect a child’s development.

In the week since the higher lead levels were first reported, officials have urged calm. They say the lead levels in some of Newark’s schools don’t compare to the crisis that has plagued Flint, Michigan.

Gov. Chris Christie said Tuesday his administration would work closely with Newark officials to help remedy the problem. The commissioner of the state’s Department of Environmental Protection is working directly with the superintendent of Newark schools, he said.

“I want to make sure everyone understands this is a situation we’re concerned about, but it is not a crisis,” Christie said to reporters in Linden, New Jersey. “But we don’t want to let it become a crisis. So we’re on top of it.”

It’s unclear how long Newark’s kids have been exposed to higher concentrations of lead. Schools had shut off the water at 30 school buildings last week. They are now using bottled water for drinking and cooking.

Officials said they don’t believe the contamination poses any serious health risks. The DEP has said that lead hasn’t been found in the city’s water supply. It likely leached into the schools’ water through lead pipes or other building fixtures made of lead or lead solder.

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