NEWARK, NJ - Gov. Phil Murphy on Wednesday focused on the federal government's responsibility to lead the country to a "water infrastructure renaissance" amid a lead crisis in Newark that resulted in the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency this week urging city residents to drink bottled water to avoid contamination.
In doing so, Murphy avoided laying blame on fellow Democrat Mayor Ras Baraka and his administration after test results last week showed water filters handed out by the city were not reducing lead to safe levels.
Murphy also reiterated the notion that water marked past its "best by" date was safe to drink after the city discovered on Tuesday it had been handing out water bottles to residents that were stamped with expired dates.
Murphy was joined by Baraka and the state's Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Catherine McCabe. McCabe plans to go to Washington on Thursday to meet with EPA officials in part to discuss what next round of test protocols should be conducted. McCabe said the testing methods used in the last week were in line with the federal agency's recommendations.
"EPA is as surprised as we are," McCabe said.
Baraka said the city would continue handing out free bottled water to residents, along with PUR water filters as it did on Wednesday, until it could determine how to effectively reduce lead in resident's homes to safe levels.
"We absolutely do not have enough information one way or another to determine whether the filters are working or not," Baraka said.
The event on Wednesday had been billed as a tour to be taken by Murphy and Baraka of the Newark Health Department facility handing out water to residents. But shortly after a press conference concluded, Murphy's small entourage of SUV's was seen rolling away from a back door to the building.
Despite saying it was the federal government's responsibility to fix the problem, Murphy offered general praise to Democratic Rep. Frank Pallone, the chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee and Senator Cory Booker, the former Newark mayor now running for president.
"The EPA and the federal government are going to have to punch their weight," Murphy said. "This is well beyond any challenges Newark might be facing, nevermind other communities in New Jersey. This is a national challenge."
Ed Motley had one word to describe his experience in the city’s handling of giving residents access to water: “Bad.”
Sitting in the driver side seat of a red pickup truck parked outside be Newark Health Department on Wednesday, Motley said as someone who is disabled, he was struggling to get to distributions centers.
“They should bring it to me,” Motley said.
Yvette Jordan, who is a plaintiff in a federal lawsuit against the city over its handling of the water crisis, said the administration had not responded timely and properly.
“We’re extremely upset,” Jordan said. “The city is not or wasn’t aggressive in meeting certain needs.”
Jordan also called education outreach efforts that involved using social media and tele-townhalls “totally inadequate” in large part because the population, especially the elderly, don’t use such technology.