NEWARK, NJ - The group that is suing Newark over elevated levels of lead has asked a federal judge to make the city extend its filter distribution program to the East Ward, according to court documents.
The city treats its water at two different locations: the Pequannock and Wanaque plants. Newark Mayor Ras Baraka and other city officials have routinely said East Ward residents do not need filters since the water there is treated at the Wanaque plant, which they say uses a chemical that effectively prevents lead from leeching off into pipes.
The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) filed its emergency motion on Dec. 8, stating a letter from the city shows that parts of the East Ward may at times have gotten water from both plants. Rutgers University at 190 University Ave. and city hall are just some of the areas that sit in an area that "likely" blended with the Pequannock system, according to the city's letter.
“Residents in the Wanaque service area, who receive water that is blended with inadequately treated Pequannock water, are likely to suffer irreparable harm as a result of City Defendants’ violations of the Safe Drinking Water Act,” lawyers for the NRDC wrote in a motion. “City Defendants’ filter program leaves this harm completely unaddressed.”
Newark began to distribute filters in October after a city-commissioned study found that a corrosion control chemical used at the Pequannock was no longer effective. Attorneys for the city have said the NRDC is "misrepresenting or misapprehending" blending though.
“Plaintiffs have assumed, apparently without any information at all, that water blending negatively impacts Wanaque water, but this assumption is not supported by the facts,” attorneys for the city wrote in a letter to the judge before the NRDC filed its emergency motion.
The letter NRDC referenced was from the city water department and sent to the state Department of Environmental Protection on Nov. 8. The letter was a response to the DEP's comments about the city-commissioned study, which was conducted by CDM Smith.
The city told the state DEP that an initial evaluation was done to review blending between the Pequannock and Wanaque systems. The city’s letter said blending "likely" occurred when pressure valves opened to supply water to the Wanaque area during emergency events, such as water main breaks or fires.
“Although blending is occurring, it does not appear that this has impacted the effectiveness of the Wanaque [corrosion control treatment]," the city’s response read, which was signed by the then-deputy director of the city's water department, Kareem Adeem.
Adeem, who has since been appointed as the interim director of the water department, told the DEP more sampling was needed to confirm if the corrosion control in the blending areas was still effective.
The city reviewed water of quality from July 2016 to the first half of 2018. Seton Hall Law School and Hawkins School sit in areas that have "potential" blending, according to the city's letter.
The city’s response said that it could have been “possible” that a gate between the two systems was open at the time of sampling for lead. The city's attorneys have also said blending is a "permanent feature of the Newark water system” and that data already reflects blended water.
“Wanaque water is successfully controlling lead corrosion now because it contains an effective chemical called orthophosphate," attorneys for the city wrote. "There is nothing in the Pequannock water than can 'contaminate' other water."
But the NRDC's motion claims that the levels of orthophosphate in the Wanaque service area are too low to be effective in areas that have blending. The NRDC also claimed the city has done sampling in the East Ward that's mandated law, but has mostly tested sites that do not have lead plumbing.
"..."[T]he addition of inadequately treated water from the Pequannock service area dilutes the orthophosphate in that water that is delivered to residents in the Wanaque service area," NRDC's lawyers wrote in their motion.
The NRDC filed its motion for emergency relief with a judge after writing a letter to the court that requested the city to expand the filter program to the East Ward. Attorneys for the city said they were strongly opposed to the request since discovery related to blending wasn't due until Dec. 13.
City spokesman Frank Baraff last week said Newark would not expand its filter program to the East Ward because doing so would only create “panic” and “worry.”
“You’re talking No. 1 about an enormous amount of money,” Baraff earlier told TAPinto. “And No. 2 you’re talking about a bogus issue.”