NEWARK, NJ - A city official today claimed that one home in the East Ward once showed elevated levels of lead because a former city employee tampered with the testing.
Newark Mayor Ras Baraka and other city officials have repeatedly said those in the East Ward need not worry about elevated lead levels. But a group that is suing the city over the issue claims officials are “misleading” East Ward residents about which areas are affected.
Newark Department of Water and Sewer Utilities Deputy Director Kareem Adeem today said that a former disgruntled employee may have had a vendetta against the city, and caused an East Ward’s sample to spike. He declined to name the person when asked.
"We had a former employee that used to conduct samples that was terminated," Adeem said. "He fought us in court, he lost his case. We still had him on the list to give us samples. He spiked the samples. To this day, he's never allowed us to come back into the house to re-sample."
The fabricated lead levels could have been done with a pencil, Adeem added.
The unnamed employee was brought up during a wide-ranging press conference today that was meant to address what the city has called “misinformation” circulating in the media.
TAPinto Newark last month reported on federal court filings from the Natural Resource Defense Council (NRDC), which is suing Newark. The group filed several briefs in court shortly after the city began to distribute lead filters to residents. The NRDC claimed the information put out by the city may not have been accurate.
“Plaintiffs are deeply troubled that Newark and its representatives continue to minimize the geographic scope of the problem,” lawyers for the NRDC wrote in an Oct. 15 court filing. “Newark residents rely on these assurances in making critical decisions about whether and how to protect themselves and their families. The City’s public announcements must not contain misleading information; if they do, Newark residents will continue to be harmed.”
Newark began distributing filters to residents in October after it received preliminary results of a study that investigated what was causing elevated lead levels. The study was commissioned by the city and conducted by CDM Smith, an engineering firm based in Edison.
The report found the chemical the city put in its Pequannock water supply that prevented lead from dissolving into pipes had stopped working.
Newark residents get water from two treatment plants, one in Wanaque and another in Pequannock. The east side of the city get its water from the Wanaque Treatment Plant, while the rest of the city gets its water from the Pequannock system.
The two treatment plants have been using different chemicals to prevent lead from leeching off pipes. The study found that only the corrosion control method at the Pequannock plant no longer works, while the one in Wanaque does.
That’s why city officials have repeatedly been saying that East Ward residents don’t need a lead filter and are not at risk.
The city’s claim about the disgruntled employee only pertains to one sample. However, the group that is suing Newark said that it had found “numerous” sites in the East Ward that had elevated levels of lead.
The Drinking Water Watch website posts results of regularly-scheduled tests, but does not list addresses of sampling sites. But the NRDC alleges it knows several East Ward homes have elevated levels of lead because it matched the posted samples with addresses it obtained through a public records request.
The NRDC did not immediately respond to a request for comment today about the city’s claims.
The federal government limits the concentration of lead in drinking water to 15 parts per billion. That concentration is monitored through samples taken by customers, or individual residents, according to federal standards and the CDM Smith report.
The city’s study plotted each sample that was taken throughout the years on a map. A map in the report shows one East Ward location had exceeded lead levels in 2015. A different location in the East Ward had increased levels of lead in January 2017; a separate location had increased levels in 2018, the map shows.
None of the samples appeared concurrently, the maps show.
It’s important to note that the CDM Smith report states that mistakes that are made by customers could cause false positives or negatives, which is why at least 10 percent of samples need to exceed 15 parts per billion before the state issues a notice of non-compliance.
One sample that is an outlier would not mean that the city is out of compliance, explained the state Department of Environmental Protection spokesman Larry Hajna.