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Parents alarmed by lead-tainted water at Newark schools

NEWARK, N.J. -- Water fountains were shut down at city schools in Newark, New Jersey this week due to lead contamination. And new evidence suggests city officials had known about the problem for years.

A memo from the district sent on August 30, 2014 mandated all schools run and flush each water fountain, for two minutes daily before school opens. The same steps were required for the cafeteria faucets, prior to food prep usage.

Principals were instructed to tell students and staff to run fountains for at least 30 seconds before drinking the water.

Annual water contamination tests at Newark's public schools were conducted between December and February. On Wednesday, the district turned off water at 30 schools after results revealed unsafe lead levels.

"I send my son to school every day to be safe. This is his safe haven, and then there's lead is in his water?" parent Ivelisse Mincey told CBS News.

Lead in drinking water should not exceed 15 parts per billion. At Bard High School, one sample had 558 ppb. Branch Brook Elementary showed 194 ppb, while Wilson Avenue Elementary tested at 193 ppb.

"I mean, I never thought the water was good in Newark anyways, but that's alarming," mother Sabrina Oliver said.

Health officials say it's not Newark's water that's the problem -- it's when lead from old pipes and fixtures leach into the water, similar to what happened in Flint, Michigan.

Too much lead can damage the nervous system. Young children are most at risk.

A new round of lead testing at all 67 schools begins next week. The Newark Health Clinic is providing free lead testing for children.