NEWARK, New Jersey, August 20, 2019 (ENS) – Filters intended to remove lead in the city of Newark’s tap water are not working as expected in at least two homes, Mayor Ras Baraka has announced in the latest turn of events in a Newark water crisis that has lasted nearly three years.

Recent testing by the City of Newark of water samples taken from three Newark homes, using city-issued water filters, found elevated lead levels in filtered water in two of the homes. The tests showed elevated lead levels in the water although the filters are nationally certified and used across the country to remove contamination.

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Drinking water in Newark, New Jersey is contaminated with lead. (Photo credit unknown)

City officials said it is too early to know why the filters are not functioning.

New Jersey’s Department of Environmental Protection, DEP, advises Newark residents to flush their pipes before drinking, and only use cold water for cooking and drinking. “Any time the water in a particular faucet has not been used for six hours or longer, flush your cold-water pipes by running the water until it becomes cold,” the agency says.

Lead is not normally found in drinking water at the source, says the New Jersey DEP. Typically, lead gets into drinking water from the service lines, plumbing and fixtures that contain lead. As a result of corrosion, lead and other metals from the pipes slowly dissolve into the water. Many factors affect the amount of lead that leaches into the water, including lead content of pipes, fixtures, and solder, along with water temperature, pH and hardness.

Lead is associated with adverse health impacts even at low levels, particularly in infants and children.

The filter failure discovered this month is just the latest problem in Newark’s longstanding concerns about elevated levels of lead in the drinking water of New Jersey’s largest city.

On August 9, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Regional Administrator Peter Lopez wrote a letter to Mayor Baraka and New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Catherine McCabe complimenting them on “…the collaborative spirit in which we have all been able to work together over the past eight months to address concerns about elevated levels of lead in portions of Newark’s drinking water system.”

Lopez instructed Baraka and McCabe to, “…advise residents with known or suspected lead service lines that until further notice they should not rely on the efficacy of the filtration devices that the city previously provided. Residents should be advised, instead, to use bottled water for drinking and cooking, until we can be assured of the reliable efficacy of filtration devices.”

Lopez wrote, “We believe it is the responsibility of the City of Newark to provide such bottled water as soon as possible.” But the EPA’s letter did not specify any particular section of the city where bottled water would be distributed, and city and state officials say federal government help is necessary to carry out the bottled water distribution.

Residents in about 14,000 households served by the Pequannock water treatment plant in West Milford, New Jersey have been eligible to receive bottled water since last Monday, and the city has distributed tens of thousands of cases of water bottles.

Officials hadn’t publicly said how long the testing is expected to take until Baraka said in a radio interview Sunday that it could be another month.

Now, Newark residents are waiting for a judge to decide whether the city will have to hand out bottled water to more residents.

Public school and environmental advocates are asking for door-to-door bottle delivery in the eastern part of the city. Those communities were left out of the city’s initial advisory after high lead levels were found in the drinking water.

East Side residents are not served by the Pequannock water treatment plant believed to be the source of contamination concerns.

The long term solution requires changing the lead pipes. The city began that effort in March, but homeowners are being asked to pay part of the bill, which could cost thousands of dollars.

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Governor Phil Murphy meets with Newark residents served by the Pequannock service area at the Newark Health Department on Aug.14, 2019. (Photo by Edwin Torres / Governor’s Office)

In a joint letter to Newark residents posted on August 11, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy and Mayor Baraka wrote, “In coordination with the City of Newark, Mayor Baraka and I are prepared to do everything the City needs, including making bottled water available to local residents. The City of Newark is currently expanding testing of filtered drinking water to more Newark homes and, in coordination with the Department of Environmental Protection, is actively working with the filter manufacturer to determine the scope of the situation and identify required corrective action as soon as possible.”

In their August 11 letter, the governor and mayor explained what the city is doing right now to solve the lead problem.

“It is also important to understand that long-term distribution of bottled water has potential to impact the City’s new corrosion control treatment that was launched in May,” they wrote.

“Experts expect to see a reduction of lead levels by the end of this year after the corrosion control optimizes. As part of the City’s initial filter testing, the engineers saw positive signs that the orthophosphate is in the distribution system, and we are optimistic that the orthophosphate will eventually provide the protective coating necessary to prevent leaching from lead pipes,” explained the governor and mayor.

“But to continue these trends, residents must continue to keep city water flowing through their pipes because this is necessary to move the orthophosphate through the system and form a protective coating around the inner lining of the pipes.”

While everyone waits for the judge’s ruling, the EPA plans to send more experts to the area this week. They are continuing to sample the water to see if efforts to address the most immediate contamination concerns are working.

Lopez wrote, “EPA stands ready to continue providing technical assistance to help find a solution to this challenge.”

Newark will make bottled water available while technicians continue to conduct extensive testing and sample and analyze the data.

All New Jersey’s Congressional lawmakers, all Democrats including former Newark Mayor Cory Booker who is a presidential candidate, are asking the U.S. Department of Agriculture to expand federal benefits for Newark residents. They are asking the USDA to:

  • Temporarily increase SNAP benefits for affected residents so they aren’t faced with the choice of buying food or bottled water.
  • Make “Ready to Feed” baby formula available at WIC locations and allowing for a temporary increase in WIC benefits so “Ready to Feed” formula, which is typically more expensive than powder formula, doesn’t financially burden participants.
  • Grant the New Jersey Department of Human Services (NJDOH) the ability to launch the SNAP home delivery pilot in Newark immediately for those facing transportation barriers and providing funding to cover delivery fees.
  • Allow SNAP benefits to be used for prepared foods to avoid potential lead exposure from cooking.
  • Provide NJDOH with emergency funding to expand access to their educational services by extending their hours to accommodate participants outside of workday hours.

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