BELLEVILLE, NJ — Friday morning marked the first day of a mass distribution in water filters for Township of Belleville residents, with Newark Mayor Ras Baraka stopping by Belleville to voice his support.

Ongoing pleas for help by Belleville Mayor Michael Melham during the ongoing lead crisis were eclipsed as Newark took center stage last summer. While Belleville is under no federal or state mandate to distribute filters, the township is doing so strictly out of an abundance of caution.

Following discussions with Newark Mayor Ras Baraka and Mary Ellen Clyne, president & CEO  of Clara Maass Medical Center, Melham secured $70,000 to purchase pouring-pitcher filters for the most vulnerable of Belleville residents. Greater Newark United Way funded $50,000 under Baraka's direction and Clara Maass Medical Center awarded Belleville a $20,000 grant.

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Clara Maass Medical Center also provided Belleville residents with lead poisoning screenings. 

"As we look past this challenge, we must move toward a permanent solution," Melham  said. "Again, sometimes it helps to be a little slow coming out of the gate. That's because we learn from municipalities who are already tackling the solution."

According to Melham, 100% of Belleville residents drink water from the Newark system.

He identified various issues with faucet-based filters Newark distributed to its own residents. First, homeowners were having installation challenges and compatibility challenges arose between the filter and faucet. Residents also ran hot water through the filters which burned them out and, finally, not all filters had a clean sensor monitor.

The PUR filter model distributed by Belleville is specifically designed to remove 99% of lead with an 11-cup capacity and clean sensor monitor. Each filter is capable of filtering an estimated 40 gallons of water.

With $45,000 of the allocated funds, Belleville purchased roughly 750 filters, with more on the way. The Township will purchase a total of 1,350 filters with two sets of replacement filters for every eligible resident. 

Therefore, residents receiving PUR filters from Belleville will receive of a total of three water filters, expected to last a duration of six months in total.

"We firmly believe that a six-month supply of filters for residents starting today will certainly get our residents to the point where they need to be," Melham said, hopeful of the effectiveness of Newark's revamped orthophosphate corrosion control treatment enacted in May.

Belleville families registered for filters through The township's most vulnerable residents were given priority, which included households with children under the age of six, the elderly with potentially comprised immune systems, those under a doctor's care and any pregnant or nursing women.

As of Jan. 1, nearly 900 Belleville households, or about 3,000 residents, registered through the website. Those deemed ineligible to receive filters were residents of Silver Lake because the properties are served by Newark's water infrastructure so such residents are  eligible for Newark-distributed water filters.

Also deemed ineligible were residents of homes built post-1950, when lead service lines were banned, and those living in multi-unit dwellings because there are no lead service lines for those developments.

Melham estimated it would cost $35-40 million to replace Belleville's 5,500 residential lead service lines, which accounts for nearly half of the township's annual municipal budget. 

He said it would be unfair to burden the entire township with the cost.

Melham said he plans to will announce Belleville's total lead line replacement program at his upcoming State of Township address in May. Belleville residents in need of a filter should register at