Newark is developing a plan to potentially test thousands of children in its school district for possible lead poisoning after elevated levels of the toxin were found in the drinking water at nearly half of the city's schools, officials say.
NJ.com reports that city Health Director Hanaa Hamdi told officials Tuesday that testing will start with some 2,000 toddlers who attend early childhood centers. Lead is known to severely impact a child's development.
The voluntary testing then may expand to the rest of the 17,000 students among the district's 30 schools, with the option for parents to opt out, officials say.
"What we're saying is 17,000 kids that may have been affected by this, and parents have the opportunity to get tested," Newark Mayor Ras Baraka said in his state of the city address Wednesday.
Baraka emphasized that the issue isn't a water problem, but an aging infrastructure.
The plan is still being drawn up and must be presented to the city council and mayor. A spokeswoman for the Newark school district told NBC 4 New York the intiial plan to test the 2,000 kids in the early childhood centers could still change with the city taking the lead.
The New Jersey Department of Health said in a statement it was lending assistance and expertise to support the Newark Health Department, which was "developing a plan to test affected children," the state said.
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 lead crisis that has plagued Flint, Michigan.
But it's unclear how long Newark's kids have been exposed to higher concentrations of the chemical. Those schools are now using bottled water for drinking and cooking.
Gov. Chris Christie said his administration would work closely with Newark officials to help remedy the problems