NEWARK, NJ - The city today will begin to treat its water with a new chemical that is expected to reduce lead levels later this year for those serviced by the Pequannock system.

The new chemical is known as orthophosphate and is currently used for most of the East Ward, which is serviced by the Wanaque Treatment Plant. The chemical is a corrosion control inhibitor that prevents lead from leaching off into pipes.

“The launch of our upgraded corrosion control system today is another major step forward in our multi-faceted approach to reducing the risks of lead for Newark families,” said Newark Mayor Ras Baraka.

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Two feed pumps in Montclair will feed orthophosphate into a water main to distribute water to Newark, Belleville, Bloomfield and Nutley. Some temporary water discoloration may occur, but residents should run water until it is clear. 

Newark Water and Sewer Utilities Acting Director Kareem Adeem still expects the city to receive another lead level exceedance in July. The city has been in violation federally accepted lead levels four times since 2017.

“We're not out of the woods yet,” Adeem said at a city hall press conference today. “We're expecting that we may see our fifth exceedance in July because of the earlier testing we did prior to today, putting the orthophosphate in. It's going to take a while for it to optimize.”

The Pequannock Treatment Plant mostly provides water to areas including the West, South, Central, and North wards. The Wanaque Treatment Plants mostly provides water to the East Ward.

Water filters were first distributed by the city in October, when the city announced preliminary results from a study that showed the silica and pH adjustments the city used at the Pequannock plant had become ineffective at preventing lead from leaching off in pipes.

“The City of Newark has put [a] voluntary effort into writing under an enforceable consent decree,” state Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Catherine McCabe said. “They are obliged to continue providing these filters until the orthophosphate new treatment is working. I think Newark has shown its good faith in taking these affirmative steps to making sure that the health of all its residents is protected.”

The city is still continuing its lead service line replacement program on private property too. The project aims to replace 15,000 lead service lines over eight years. The $75 million project has enough funding for the first three out of 10 phases, Adeem today told reporters.

Since last year, the city has received violations for haloacetic acids, a possible carcinogen, and turbidity, which indicates if a treatment plant's filtration system isn't working properly.

Haloacetic acids occur when chlorine used to disinfect water creates a byproduct during the disinfection process. Some scientists say increasing chlorine increases acidity, which makes water corrosive and more likely to causes lead to leach off from pipes.

The city is also investigating a suspected outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease at a senior housing building at 2 Nevada Ct. Legionnaires is a type of pneumonia that is contracted by breathing in small droplets of water containing Legionella bacteria.

City officials are still trying to determine if the source of the bacteria is in the building.

The mayor and Jerry Notte, an engineering consultant for the city, said Legionnaires, lead and haloacetic acids are separate issues that are not connected. Baraka said "at this point, there is no evidence" that Legionella is coming from the source water due to low chlorine levels.

“Nationally, that's not a requirement,” Notte said, referring to testing for Legionella in source water. “Requirements are very stringent and rigorous as to what we need to test for. Currently, that's not because it's not a pathway for legionella to get into the systems.”

The Natural Resources Defense Council, which is suing city and state officials over the water's lead levels in Newark, would still want bottled water to be distributed to residents until the water treatment begins to work and lead levels have stabilized. The group was also concerned about new reports of Legionnaire's disease. 

"Newark’s recent Legionnaires’ outbreak could be related to Newark’s water quality issues, but the available data are very limited," the group said in a statement, later adding that, "Legionella bacteria can grow in an individual buildings’ pipes and equipment, but it can also be found in a city’s distribution system. From the distribution system, it can then flow to individual buildings, where it can multiply."

This story was updated at 7:51 p.m. with a statement from the Natural Resources Defense Council. 

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