NEWARK, NJ - The city’s water exceeded federal limits for lead a fifth consecutive time since 2017, as was expected by officials even though they’ve begun to take strides against the issue.
The state's Drinking Water Watch website shows that of the 356 water samples collected between Jan. 1 and June 30, 215 were above the federally acceptable level of 15 parts per billion for lead. The highest lead reading was 544 parts per billion, with 52 parts per billion at the 90th percentile of samples.
In March, the city broke ground on the first of 10 phases to replace 15,000 lead service lines. Officials in May announced that it would begin treating its water with a new corrosion control inhibitor known as orthophosphate for the city’s Pequannock treatment plant.
The most recent lead level data comes as no surprise to city officials, who have publicly said in the past they expected the city to exceed lead levels again during this monitoring period.
“That is because it takes time for the orthophosphate to optimize and recoat the inner linings of lead service lines to reduce corrosion,” said Acting Water & Sewer Utilities Director Kareem Adeem in a statement. “We have made significant progress to date to reduce the risks of lead.”
Newark’s source water does not contain lead. Rather, lead in aging pipes has been leeching off and ends up tainting tap water as it enters homes.
The city expects lead levels to show a decrease when results are in for the next monitoring period. In the interim, the city in October 2018 also began distributing lead filters to residents. More than 37,000 residents have received filters to date, the city said.
City and state Department of Environmental officials are still fighting a lawsuit over the lead that was filed in June 2018 by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and the Newark Education Workers’ (NEW) Caucus. The NRDC and NEW Caucus claim city and state officials violated regulations that caused lead levels to increase in the first place.
The NRDC, an environmental advocacy group, says the city isn’t doing enough to address the issue. It has asked a federal judge to make Newark distribute bottled water or improve the filter program, which it claims to be in haphazard.
“NRDC remains concerned that lead levels in Newark’s drinking water are dangerously high,” said NRDC Senior Director for Water Initiatives Steve Fleischli. “Newark’s water lead levels are not borderline; they are among the highest of any water system serving more than 100,000 people across the country.”
The city in 2017 received an action level exceedance for lead in both semi-annual reporting periods, with a 90th percentile reading at about 27 parts per billion. The highest lead sample measured 137 parts per billion during the entire year.
In 2018, there was an increase in testing samples and an increase in reported lead levels. The highest lead reading in both reporting periods for 2018 was 250 parts per billion, with 48 parts per billion at the 90th percentile.
An official violation has not been posted on the state DEP’s Drinking Water Watch website yet. The DEP did not respond to requests for comment.