NEWARK. NJ — Newark and the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection today resolved a three-year legal battle with groups who filed suit against the city in 2018 over the handling of its lead water crisis.
A settlement was submitted to federal courts requiring Newark to continue its ongoing progress on lead service line remediation, provide free water testing and other measures. In under two years, Newark has replaced more than 17,000 lead lines through a $120 million loan from Essex County, bringing the program to its final stages.
“Newark’s aggressive lead service line replacement program could serve as a model for the nation once it is completed,” said Erik Olson, senior strategic director for health at Natural Resources Defense Council, in a statement.
Leading up to its collaboration with Essex County, Mayor Ras Baraka’s administration was beleaguered by levels as high as 57 ppb, failing to meet federal Lead and Copper rule standards for six consecutive periods between 2017 and 2019. In 2018, a lawsuit from the Newark Education Workers Caucus, the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Newark Water Coalition demanded the city distribute bottled water to residents, treat water with corrosion inhibitors and replace old lead lines.
August 2019 brought new headaches for Newark when filters given to residents by the city failed and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency ordered the city to hand out bottled water. Officials pushed the use of new filters the following October and ended free water distribution.
While bottled water was not included in the settlement submitted Tuesday, the city must provide public health information to its residents at newarkleadserviceline.com and town halls. The NJDEP is in the process of building a web page for information on water and corrosion control testing in Newark.
The site is expected to launch this February and will allow users to see Newark’s compliance with the Lead and Copper Rule, including lead and water quality testing results, current violations, and the status of Newark’s corrosion control treatment. Newark residents can find information about reducing lead exposure as well.
Gov. Phil Murphy’s administration is also providing funding and expertise to aging water infrastructure throughout the state. A partnership between NJDEP and the New Jersey Infrastructure Bank launched in 2018 has facilitated more than $1.5 billion in water infrastructure improvements, including $45 million in principle forgiveness from NJDEP to support lead line replacement programs like Newark’s.
“By the grace of God, we are near completion of our lead service line replacement program, and I am thankful that we were able to identify the issue, do the work, and are able to help make our residents safer,” Baraka said.
Newarkers who have not gone through the post-installation waiting period and sample testing should continue using filters supplied by the city until they are told it's safe to stop. The efficacy of lead service line replacements is being monitored through testing kits from 120 Water Audit, which partnered with the city.
NJDEP has also established a new email address for Newark residents who have concerns about lead in their drinking water: email@example.com. They can also contact the DEP via phone at 609-292-5550. Information about all drinking water systems in New Jersey is available through the DEP’s Drinking Water Watch website here.