Poisoned Water Front Stage Today In Trenton: Ras Baraka and Kim Gaddy Show Leadership

The alarming truth has finally been revealed: Our children are being poisoned! What makes this more disturbing is that elected and appointed officials were warned about this over 20 years ago AND THEY DID NOTHING. We are not talking about Flint, MI. We are talking about our Newark children drinking, cooking and cleaning while all running water in nearly 40 Newark schools (and possibly more) is contaminated with dangerous levels of lead. LEAD KILLS!

I was excited to see the leadership of Kim Gaddy – a veteran with more than fifteen years of service with CLEAN WATER ACTION – who has become one of the NJ’s premiere environmental justice experts. Both she and Mayor Ras Baraka testified in Trenton today before the State Environmental Committee demanding the funding, partnerships, and comprehensive plan needed to solve what some have described as criminal acts of neglect.

During his testimony, Mayor Baraka emphasized that he has been in the schools talking to students for the last week and they peppered him with questions about how adults could allow children to drink lead-poisoned water.

Mayor Baraka implored the legislature to pass the bill that would be a first step toward solving this horrific problem. “Hopefully I can go back to the students of Newark and tell them that the State legislature has done the right thing and gave [Newark] the money to deal with this problem going forward,” he said.

It is more than a little troubling that it took the recent water crisis in Flint, MI, to bring the reality of this issue to public attention…especially when, according to the Newark Teachers Union and parent and current candidate for Newark School Board, Kim Gaddy, the district has known about this horrendous health hazard since at least 2004, and possibly as early as 1992.

During her testimony today, Kim Gaddy refused to allow for excuses. “In 1992 I requested to have the drinking water fountains tested in Newark Public Schools. So the State has known about this since the early 1990’s. More children cannot afford to be poisoned with lead in drinking water,” she said.

Despite possessing clear evidence to support it, elected leadership did nothing to correct this problem. Mayor Baraka pointed out that 30 schools were tested for dangerous levels of lead in 2012, and 8 more have recently come to light.

This alone is compelling evidence of a cover-up that has been going on for years.

As it stands, next to nothing has been done to solve this problem. For years, a woefully inadequate ‘band-aid’ approach in the way of remediation filters was taken, though these were poorly maintained or forgotten about.

In an attempt to create a temporary solution, District Superintendent, Chris Cerf, ordered all water fountains and kitchen faucets be shut off in 30 schools. The students are now drinking bottled water.

Gaddy even went on to express her concern for faculty and staff members, stating, “Teachers are trying very hard to educate the students in Newark’s Public School system. But you cannot teach a child who is unhealthy. You cannot work in a building if the school is in a sick building. So we are endangering not only the children, but also the faculty and staff.”

How can two-decades of gross negligence on the part of the district in the face of clear evidence be explained? The extent of this crisis would certainly not have been allowed to occur in more affluent communities. Twenty years of environmental racism – and the lack of organized political efforts that underlie it – is enough.

What’s more, voters must be held more accountable for their own safety. We must all vote and elect qualified, responsible officials who possess the knowledge and experience to fix this problem.

In her testimony, Kim went on to say, “We need the Governor to step up. It is a State controlled district and we need to ensure that all hands are on deck. It is going to take multiple solutions and multiple partnerships to begin to address the concerns that as parents we are experiencing. The health of our children is in jeopardy.”  

The election on April 19th is the first critical step to restoring political accountability to our city. We urge all Newarkers to come out to the polls and vote for the best-qualified candidates who have a proven record of fighting against environmental racism. Together we can make our community a better, safer place to live and raise our children. Politics aside, having a person with deep expertise in Environmental Racism and Justice is a win for all parents in Newark.

Gaddy stated, “As a parent, I am concerned about not only my child, but every child in the Newark Public School district.”

It is time for all parents, community leaders and publicly elected officials to stand up and fight for the health and safety of our children and our living environment.