NEWARK, NJ - You sent us your questions and concerns about lead in water and we listened.
TAPinto Newark created a questionnaire about two weeks ago that allowed you to send us inquiries about the city's ongoing lead water crisis. People asked about water filters, lead pipes, health effects and for more information about how school officials keep tabs on the harmful chemical.
City officials have said the issue arose from lead pipes, and not the source water. The chemical the city was treating its water with became ineffective at preventing lead from leaching off into pipes, which has caused Newark's levels to rise for about two years.
The Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental advocacy group, filed suit in 2018 over the issue. The group alleges that city and state officials violated federal regulations that caused lead levels to rise.
The city expects levels to decrease soon because it anticipates a new corrosion control inhibitor it began to treat its water with will start kicking in. In March, the city also began to replace lead service lines at a reduced cost to homeowners.
More than 38,000 water filters and 31,504 replacement cartridges have been distributed by the city since October 2018, a Newark spokesman said.
Most questions we received asked about those filters, where to obtain them and who could obtain them. We then combined recurring questions into singular inquiries.
TAPinto Newark reached out to city officials, professors, scientists and water industry experts to get you answers. Here they are:
Q: What sort of specifications should a water filter have to make sure it effectively protects against lead?
A: The city is expanding testing of water filters after two out of three homes it sampled with filters in the last month still showed lead levels above 15 parts per billion, officials said Aug. 10.
The tests were conducted under “extreme conditions,” when water was stagnated for about six hours, city officials said. Testing under those conditions represents the “worst-case scenario” for lead concentrations, an engineering consultant with CDM Smith said.
The testing sample was also incredibly small, so the city plans to conduct more tests to see if the issue is more widespread.
Mayor Ras Baraka recommended that residents who are serviced by the Pequannock Treatment Plant and have lead service lines should flush their water for five minutes before filtering for more protection. The mayor also recommended that households with pregnant women or young children should use bottled water until more testing is completed.
TAPinto Newark previously reported Aug. 9 that the two filters PUR donated to the city had certifications from either the NSF International or the Water Quality Association.
A filter should effectively reduce lead levels if it is certified by NSF International or the Water Quality Association, which both conduct product testing of water supplies. Both are accredited by the American National Standards Institute, which oversees guidelines for everything from dairy and livestock production to water systems equipment.
A spokeswoman for PUR said the company donated the PUR Classic Faucet Filtration System and PUR 11-Cup Ultimate Pitcher with Lead Reduction to the city for distribution. The donated faucet filters are NSF certified, while the pitchers received a seal of approval from the Water Quality Association.
Both products are only as effective as their replacement cartridges. So professors, scientists and city officials TAPinto Newark spoke to have stressed the importance of replacing the cartridges once it expires.
The PUR manual for the pitcher indicates that it has a capacity of 30 gallons -- or up to two months. The manual for the faucet filter indicates that it should be replaced after 100 gallons of use -- or every three months.
A spokeswoman for PUR said the company also donated PUR MineralClear Faucet Filters and PUR Pitcher Replacement Filters with Lead Reduction to the city. NSF-International says to replace filters according to the manufacturer's recommendations and not use any third-party replacements.
Q: Where can I get filters or filter replacements?
A: The city began distributing free filters to residents in October 2018 and the program still continues today. There are seven distribution centers located throughout Newark where residents can pick up a filter or replacement cartridges. The city says canvassers are also delivering filters door-to-door.
Below are the pick-up locations and hours. For more information visit, newarkleadserviceline.com:
The following facilities are open Tuesday through Friday from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. and on Saturday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Boylan Recreation Center – 916 South Orange Avenue
Vince Lombardi Center of Hope – 201 Bloomfield Avenue
Hayes Park West Recreation – 179 Boyd Street
John F. Kennedy Recreation Center – 211 West Kinney Street
St. Peter’s Recreation Center – 378 Lyons Avenue
The following facility is open Monday through Sunday from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Water & Sewer Facility – 239 Central Avenue
The following facility is open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
Department of Health and Community Wellness – 110 Williams St.
Q: Can you get a filter if you live anywhere in Newark and who wouldn't be eligible for one?
A: The City of Newark does not distribute filters to all residents. The city told TAPinto Newark that it supplies water filters and replacement cartridges to single-family and multi-family homes that are serviced by the Pequannock Water System, or those who live in all of the West and South wards and most of the Central and North wards.
A map located at www.NewarkLeadServiceLine.com can help residents identify their water system.
In addition to that criteria, only homes that have lead service lines or interior copper piping with lead solder are eligible for filters. You can see if your home has a service line on the city’s website.
The city also said homes tested by the city that are above the federal action level of 15 parts per billion for lead -- regardless of which ward -- are also eligible for a filter and replacements.
Residents must also bring either a driver's license or government-issued identification card when picking up a filter at one of the locations mentioned above. Tenants or renters must bring proof of residency in the form of a lease agreement or a utility or cable bill, the city said.
The Newark Water Coalition, a grassroots group of local activists, gives residents filters regardless of their address. Newark Water Coalition facilitator Anthony Diaz said filters can be obtained by emailing email@example.com.
Q: Is there any risk using lead-tainted water in a humidifier? Does that also need to be filtered?
A: Dr. Weilin Huang, a professor of Environmental Engineering at Rutgers University, said lead does not evaporate, so there is no chance for lead contained in water to make contact with someone in the house.
The city, however, recommended using water from a safe source or filtered water.
And, for good measure, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says it is safe to bathe or shower in water even if it contains more than 15 parts per billion of lead. Human skin does not absorb lead via water, according to the EPA.
It’s important to note that Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha -- the pediatrician exposed the lead crisis in Flint, Michigan -- recently told residents at a town hall that young children may attempt to drink water while they bathe or shower. If water that exceeds the federal action level for lead is ingested that way, it could pose a risk.
While the federal action level for lead is 15 parts per billion, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention says there is no safe level of lead. Young children and pregnant women face the most danger since exposure can lead to learning disabilities and behavioral issues. At much higher levels, lead can damage a person's kidneys, blood and nervous system and could even lead to coma or death, according to the CDC.
Q: How can people get tested for lead in their apartment complexes?
A: The city and Natural Resources Defense Council Senior Health Program Director Erik Olson said apartment complexes are unlikely to have lead service lines. That's because apartment complexes have larger service lines that are usually too large to be constructed with lead, both said.
However, indoor plumbing can have lead or lead solder fixtures, which could leach into tap water, Olson said.
The city said any resident can have their apartment tested for lead water by contacting the Newark Department of Water & Sewer Utilities at (973) 733-6303 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Q: What is a partial lead service line replacement program and what are its pros and its cons?
A: City spokesman Frank Baraff said the city’s lead service line program only does full replacements, not partial.
A full lead service line is a pipe between the water main in the street and the water meter to a home. A partial lead service line is a pipe between the water main in the street and the curb box found in the sidewalk in front of a home.
Some groups, like the Natural Resources Defense Council, argue that partial lead service line replacements leave parts of lead pipes in the ground. The group also says more lead corrosion can occur when different materials of pipes are fused together.
Homeowners in Newark own the entire lead service line, so city contractors are doing full line replacements.
Replacing those pipes usually falls on the shoulders of homeowners since it is private property, but the city was able to bond for $75 million to help cover the costs due to state legislation that was recently passed. Homeowners still have to pay up to $1,000 for the replacement.
The city started replacing lead service lines in March. The plan calls for 15,000 lead service lines to be replaced in 10 phases across several years.
To register for the city's lead service line replacement program, visit www.newarkleadserviceline.com/register
Q: Why is the lead service line replacement program only for residential properties and not schools?
A: A school district is separate from the municipal government. Therefore, a school district is responsible for its own testing and remediation. There are a different set of state regulations that govern lead testing for schools too.
Those regulations were adopted in 2016 by the state Board of Education that required schools to test for lead in drinking water every six years.
State statute set rules for testing water at all public school districts, charter schools, renaissance schools, jointure commissions, educational services commissions, approved private schools for students with disabilities acting under contract to provide educational services on behalf of New Jersey public school districts and state-funded early childcare facilities.
Newark Public Schools Business Administrator Valerie Wilson said the district tests on a monthly schedule to ensure close monitoring and compliance. The district provided the most recent round testing results done in June for West Side High School's Untermann Field, University High School, Barringer High School, First Avenue Elementary, and Abington Avenue Elementary.
All were below the federal action level of 15 parts per billion, according to spreadsheets obtained by TAPinto Newark.
It was not immediately clear which schools have been tested before then. The district did not provide additional information.
However, districts only have to send the state Department of Education (DOE) results if its lead levels exceed 15 parts per billion. Otherwise, districts are only required to submit a statement of assurance to the DOE that they conducted testing, said the agency's spokeswoman, Carmen Cusido.
Newark Public Schools submitted its statement of assurance for the 2018-2019 school year at the beginning of July, Cusido said. She added that the district is in compliance with the DOE's submission requirements.
The district has installed filters on all operational water fountains in schools, Wilson added, and new water lines are installed by the district when needed.
“We have been working at this for multiple years so our incidence of elevated conditions has been significantly reduced,” Wilson wrote in an email. “We are addressing any new incidences immediately. All drinking sources have been aggressively managed.”