Newark Officials Distribute Bottled Water Amidst Lead Level Concerns

Officials in Newark, New Jersey handed out water bottles to its citizens after concerns over rising lead levels in the water.

The Environmental Protection Agency sent a letter to Newark officials on August 9 warning that the water filters distributed by the city were insufficient to protect its residents from high lead levels. The agency also said it found “lead levels exceeding 15 parts per billion, the applicable federal and state drinking water standard.”

“We are unable at this time to assure Newark residents that their heath is fully protected when drinking tap water filtered through these devices,” the letter said, referring to the water filters that were issued by the city.

New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy and Newark Mayor Ras Baraka released a joint statement on August 11 that city officials in Newark tested water samples from three homes in Newark with city-issued water filters and found “elevated lead levels in filtered water in two of the homes.” Murphy and Baraka stated they are making sure bottled water is available to local residents and have listed locations on where residents can pick up bottled water.

“The City of Newark is currently expanding testing of filtered drinking water to more Newark homes and, in coordination with the Department of Environmental Protection, is actively working with the filter manufacturer to determine the scope of the situation and identify required corrective action as soon as possible,” the statement read.

City officials also urged residents to continue to “run their water... to help coat the pipes and allow the new corrosion control treatment to continue optimizing.” Murphy and Baraka said in their joint statement “experts expect to see a reduction of lead levels by the end of this year.”

“As part of the City's initial filter testing, the engineers saw positive signs that the orthophosphate is in the distribution system, and we are optimistic that the orthophosphate will eventually provide the protective coating necessary to prevent leaching from lead pipes,” the statement read. “But to continue these trends, residents must continue to keep city water flowing through their pipes because this is necessary to move the orthophosphate through the system and form a protective coating around the inner lining of the pipes.”

New Jersey Senator and 2020 presidential candidate Cory Booker wrote on Twitter that Newark’s water crisis requires federal assistance.

“Newark’s water emergency demands our federal government’s immediate attention. Everyone deserves clean, safe water — it's shameful that our national crisis of lead-contaminated water disproportionately hits poor black and brown communities like my own.”

Last year, the city of Newark handed out more than 40,000 water filters to its residents with lead service lines.

“This program aims to supply water filters and replacement cartridges to single-family and multi-family homes that are serviced by the Pequannock Water System (all of west and south wards, and most of central and north wards) and have lead service lines or interior copper piping with lead solder, as well as homes tested by the City with a water lead level of 15 parts per billion (ppb) or higher,” the city of Newark said in a previous statement.

This is not the first time the city of Newark has requested federal assistance to address the lead in its water. Earlier this year, Baraka wrote a letter to President Donald Trump criticizing his declaration of a national emergency to fund the construction of a border wall along the US-Mexico border for $5 billion. Baraka noted the presence of a crisis in Newark, due to the “decaying infrastructure of our water systems.” He noted that other cities in the cities and towns in New Jersey are experiencing the same crisis.

“Besides Newark, more than 20 other New Jersey cities and towns have elevated levels of lead in their tap water, and so do thousands of municipalities in our nation,” the mayor of Newark wrote at the time. “This crisis, mainly, affects older black and brown cities with limited resources and serious health issues that are systemically overlooked by every level of government. In prioritizing environmental justice, saving children and their families within these cities is a must.”

The city of Flint, Michigan’s water also created a municipal crisis. In April 2014, the city’s drinking water became contaminated with lead because of a cost-cutting move from city officials, USA Today previously reported. In an effort to reduce costs, the city temporarily obtained its drinking water from the polluted Flint River and also used the city’s inadequate water treatment plant while the new water pipeline was being built in Lake Huron.

About the Author

Maria Perez is a breaking news writer for The North Star. She has an M.A. in Urban Reporting from the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism. She has been published in the various venues, including Newsweek, Juvenile Justice Information Exchange, City Limits, and local newspapers like The Wave and The Home Reporter.