Tests results show that the corrosion control used in Newark's water system is no longer effective at reducing lead levels in drinking water and the city will begin distributing filters to residents in areas where homes have lead service lines.

Newark Mayor Ras Baraka has scheduled a press conference Friday morning to discuss the results of a study the city received last week known as a "lead and cooper rule compliance study."

The study recommended that the city take new corrosion control measures to inhibit the release of lead from service lines into drinking water. The city has about 15,000 lead service lines.

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The city is also undertaking an eight-year effort to replace all the lead service lines in the city. In the first year, the city expects to replace about 1,500 lead service lines. 

But for now, city officials are providing free filters to affected residents to reduce lead and and launching a public information campaign to make residents aware of the filters.  

Residents and businesses without lead service lines do not need to be concerned about lead in their water, city officials said. 

Newark's water supply, which comes from a system of reservoirs in northern Passaic County and is delivered to Newark through massive pipelines, is not itself contaminated with lead. The lead is introduced into the water when it dissolves out of lead service lines connecting Newark’s water supply to homes.

Exposure to low levels of lead can cause serious, irreversible damage to children’s developing brains and nervous systems, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council. Exposure to lead can also cause miscarriages and stillbirths in pregnant women, as well as fertility issues, cardiovascular and kidney effects, cognitive dysfunction, and elevated blood pressure in adults, according to the NRDC. 

Lead from service lines is a widespread problem in older cities across the nation, including Flint, Michigan, where dangerous levels of lead began showing up in the city's drinking water in 2015 after cost cutting measures forced the city to take drinking water from the Flint River. 

In Newark, the city owns the water mains, but does not own the service lines that connect the city water supply to homes. Lead service lines and solder joints may occur in homes built before 1986, the year that lead lines were banned.

Under the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's lead and coper rule, if more than 10 percent of samples test above 15 parts per billion, the federal lead “action level” is exceeded, according to the NRDC.

According to the New Jersey Drinking Water Watch database, Newark has exceeded the federal action level for lead in every one of the last four semiannual monitoring periods.

The NRDC has submitted formal requests to review records of addresses of homes with excessive levels of lead, but to date, neither Newark nor the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection have disclosed a list of the addresses of homes or other locations tested.

Frank Baraff, a spokesman for Newark, said the city could not release the study because it was still in draft form and needed to be finalized.

"We got a draft report and based on the information in the report, we immediately sprung into action," Baraff said.

In July 2017, the state Department of Environmental Protection sent a letter to Newark informing the city that it was out of compliance with the rules for lead in drinking water, according to the NRDC, which obtained the document.

The DEP required the city to undertake numerous actions, including replacing lead service lines, conducting a public education campaign and submitting an updated corrosion control plan, according to the letter.

Gov. Phil 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.

What can you do?

Until Newark restores a safe drinking water source that meets EPA standards, the NRDC advises residents to take the following steps.

  • Flush faucets by running water for a minimum of five (5) minutes prior to consumption;
  • Use only cold water from taps for drinking and cooking, as warm or hot water is more likely to contain higher levels of lead;
  • Don’t boil your drinking water—that can concentrate the lead levels;
  • Install and use water filters that are certified to remove lead by NSF International (labeled as meeting “NSF Standard 53” for lead removal—see here for a review of how to pick and operate a filter, and here for a list of filters that reduce lead levels), and regularly change the filter cartridges in accordance with manufacturer’s instructions;
  • Use only filtered or bottled water to prepare baby formula and food. Children, pregnant or nursing women should also use filtered or bottled water for drinking and cooking;
  • Get your tap water tested for lead. You can request a free test from the Newark Water Department (phone 973-733-6303), or if you’d prefer independent testing you can get it done by Healthy Babies Bright Futures, which lets you pay how much you can afford for the test (https://hbbf.org/lead-test-kits); and
  • Consider having your child tested for lead exposure by your doctor or pediatrician.

Source: NRDC