NEWARK, NJ - Newark Mayor Ras J. Baraka today said he was unsure exactly when the chemical used to prevent lead from dissolving into pipes stopped working, but it will be fixed in about six to eight months.
In the meantime, Baraka said the city will begin handing out water filters to homeowners who have lead service lines—the pipe that connects the water main under the street to the meter in a house—to reduce the risk of exposure.
The announcement comes after the city received preliminary findings this week from a Lead and Copper Rule Compliance study conducted by CDM Smith, an Edison-based engineering firm. The study recommended the city use new corrosion control measures to inhibit the release of lead from service lines into drinking water.
Newark is also fighting litigation filed by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), an environmental group that claims the city did not use adequate corrosion control treatment. The city vehemently denied those claims at the time, saying the allegations were "absolutely and outrageously false."
Today, the mayor made clear that he was not reversing course on his original statements when the lawsuit was first filed. He said that the drinking water supply is safe, but the infrastructure in the city is to blame.
“The drinking water is safe,” Baraka said. “There are parts of the city that do not need filters. There are parts of the city where this is not affected at all. So we have to be clear so we don't fall in the motivations of other folks. The drinking water is safe.
“In fact, Newark has some of the best drinking water. The problem is that our infrastructure is not safe. Our infrastructure hasn't been safe by the way for the last 50, 60 years. So it needs to be replaced and we need investments in our infrastructure."
The NRDC did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The East Ward was the only area that was not impacted in the city’s corrosion control study, the mayor said.
In 2017, Newark's lead levels exceeded actionable levels, according to state data.
“In 2017, when we had a violation, that triggered a look at what caused the violation,” said Newark Water and Sewer Utilities Director Andrea Adebowale.
Newark owns the water mains, but the service lines that connect the city’s water supply to homes are privately owned by the homeowners. The city plans to use assistance from the state and the federal government to offset costs for property owners who have to replace their lead service lines.
There are about 15,000 lead service lines in Newark and the city council recently approved a $75 million bond program to replace those over eight years.
Today, the governor released a statement saying his administration will provide any assistance that is necessary. Murphy recently signed legislation co-sponsored by Assemblywomen Eliana Pintor Marin and Cleopatra Tucker that would allow Newark and other municipalities to levy special assessments and issue bonds to replace lead service lines.
“I fully support Mayor Baraka’s efforts to urgently respond to this situation,” Gov. Phil Murphy said. “Our first priority is assuring the health of our residents, and so we urge everyone to follow the guidance from state and local officials. My administration stands ready to provide any assistance necessary.”
Children and pregnant women are at greatest risk of being impacted by lead. Running water from the tap for a few minutes will not work in this case either, state officials warned.
Pur donated 20,000 filters to the city, the mayor said. The city also purchased an additional 20,000 filters to distributed.
These are the steps residents should take if they suspect they have been affected by the ineffective corrosion control:
- Call 973-733-6303 to find out if you have a lead service line. Not all residences in Newark are affected. The Newark Water Department is available to provide this information. Residents can have their water tested at no charge by contacting the Newark Department of Water and Sewer Utilities at the above number or by emailing email@example.com to request an inspection.
- If you have a lead service line, begin using filtered or bottled water immediately. “Flushing” – running the water from the tap for a few minutes – will not work in this case. Newark is distributing water filters to affected residents.
- Get children’s blood tested for lead levels. Talk to your health care provider or the Newark Department of Health and Community Wellness at 973-733-5323.
Moreover, residents can collect filters and replacement cartridges at the following locations:
- Boylan Recreation Center: 916 South Orange Avenue
- John F. Kennedy Recreation Center: 211 West Kinney Street (entrance on Howard Street)
- Vince Lombardi Center of Hope: 201 Bloomfield Avenue
- St. Peter’s Recreation Center: 378 Lyons Avenue
- Hayes Park West Recreation: 179 Boyd Street
- The Water and Sewers Facility: 239 Central Avenue
- Department of Health and Community Wellness, located at 110 William Street from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturday
These recreation centers will be open from 7 a.m. until 8 p.m. during the week of Oct. 15. During the week of Oct. 22, the distribution centers will be open from 11 a.m. until 8 p.m. Tuesday to Friday and 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturday. City Hall and Newark’s Health Department will remain distribution locations Monday – Friday from 8:30 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. The Water and Sewers Facility will operate from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. seven days a week, through Nov. 1.