NEWARK, NJ - For Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha -- the pediatrician who exposed lead levels in Flint, Mich. -- Newark’s lead crisis is one of her major concerns.
“Newark is what keeps me up at night right now,” Hanna-Attisha said during a community meeting in the Ironbound. “I don't know how this is not a front-page story on every single newspaper. When you look at these numbers and for how long it's been going on, nobody should be sleeping on this.”
The pews were almost filled at St. Stephan's Grace Community Church as the pediatrician spoke. The event was organized through the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), which is suing the city over lead, and a grassroots activist group known as the Newark Water Coalition.
Residents at the event Wednesday asked Hanna-Attisha many questions in Spanish and English about the effects of lead and how to prevent exposure.
Jan Vaughn told TAPinto Newark she moved here a few weeks ago from Brooklyn and just recently learned about the water crisis. She heard about the community meeting through Facebook.
“I thought when you boiled water, it killed the poison,” said Vaughn as she stood on line to receive a water filter provided by the NRDC in the church’s basement. “It’s actually the opposite.”
Any comparisons to the water crisis in Flint has drawn frustration from Mayor Ras Baraka. He has repeatedly said Newark is not Flint.
"The City of Newark has gone above and beyond what is required," a city spokeswoman told TAPinto Newark after the meeting.
In Newark, lead levels breached the federal action level of 15 parts per billion in 2017 after the chemical the city treated its water with had become ineffective at preventing lead pipes from corroding. Water samples from the city have exceeded federal lead standards five times for about two years.
Flint in 2014 switched over to a different water source as a cost-saving measure. But the state reportedly did not require the city to have a corrosion control plan in place when the switch happened, causing lead to leach off from pipes.
“He's right. Newark is not Flint,” said Hanna-Attisha of Baraka’s comments. “Y'know, everyone in Flint knows there's a problem. Everyone in Flint has filters. There's more filters than homes in Flint. There's bottled water. Our pipes are being replaced and this is the direction Newark needs to go."
The NRDC has asked a judge in its civil suit to make the city either distribute bottled water or improve its filter distribution program. The city has argued that distributing bottled water is unnecessary and would be too costly.
Flint has so far replaced about 8,800 service lines since 2016. Service lines there are replaced at no cost to residents due to a $97 million settlement in a federal lawsuit filed by the NRDC, the same group that is challenging Newark and New Jersey officials in court.
Newark plans to replace 15,000 lead service lines at a reduced price to homeowners after state legislation allowed the city to bond $75 million for the work. Each homeowner would have to pay up to $1,000, although it would cost about $8,000 to replace without any subsidy.
Newark spokeswoman Crystal Rosa told TAPinto Newark that the city would "love to be in a position to avoid residents" having to pay for replacement service lines. She also blamed President Donald Trump's administration for being slow to step up and help.
"Flint occurred during the Obama administration and the political climate in Washington is different than what it is today," Rosa said in an email. "Newark can’t afford to sit around waiting for Donald Trump to act when we can get to work now for our residents."