More than two dozen people gathered on the steps of City Hall today to protest Mayor Ras Baraka’s response to Newark’s lead crisis, calling for his resignation.
“Bring us your resignation right now for three years of lies to the people in the city of Newark,” said Donna Jackson, a longtime community activist who organized the protest. “You said nothing was wrong with the water. When the data was in from the city, you still continued to lie.”
Residents, local district leaders, and members from Newark’s Water Coalition, Newark Education Workers Caucus and other groups joined to voice disapproval of how Baraka and Governor Phil Murphy have responded to the issue.
The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), which filed a lawsuit against the city in June 2018, has been monitoring city lead levels and filed a motion on August 12 because of elevated lead amounts in the Wanaque service area that Baraka’s administration said was safe to drink.
A hearing has been scheduled in U.S. District Court in Newark tomorrow.
A press secretary in the Mayor Baraka's press office did not respond to a request for comment.
Some 14,000 homes in Newark connected to the Pequnnock treatment plant have lead service lines that began leaching lead into drinking water. When the problem was discovered, Newark began distributing Pur water filters to impacted homeowners.
However, on Friday, the EPA revealed that it had tested three filters and two of them had failed to reduce lead to safe levels. As a result, the city has asked residents who have installed water filters to switch to bottled water for drinking, cooking, and preparing baby formula until while testing is conducted.
Each household was entitled to receive two cases of water with about 24 bottles in each that was expected to last a week. Residents were required to bring proof of address.
Some residents reported that they were turned away at distribution centers for lack of identification or not going to the correct center for their registered address.
The city suspended distribution Tuesday because the bottled water was past its "best use by date." Though water itself can not expire, the plastic bottle that contains water can start leaking chemicals into the water that have been linked to cancer.
“They think that we are so uneducated in this town and so poor that we can’t figure that out either,” said Jackson.
Anthony Diaz, founder of the Newark Water Coalition, said residents should have access to clean water and should not be turned away at distribution centers because of their address.
“Amazon was going to come here and the state was going to give us $5 billion dollars,” Diaz said. “Don’t tell me there’s not enough money.”
Christopher Canik, a member of the Newark Education Workers Caucus, said Newark's Wanaque service area samples are one point away from exceeding the federally acceptable level of 15 parts per billion for lead, which contradicts previous statements that the water is safe.
“It seems to me someone knew and it should have been more prevalently reported on,” said Canik. “Bold statements like ‘the water is safe to drink,’ probably should have been avoided.”