Mayor Baraka: We have been proactive, truthful about lead. Water group’s facts are ‘blatantly false.'

Posted Sep 18, 2019

By Ras Baraka

Newark Mayor Ras Baraka speaks at a press conference in August to announce a partnership between Newark and Essex County to fund $120 million to expedite the complete replacement of lead water pipes in Newark.

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As an elected official, I know taking criticism is part of my job, but the op-ed column run by The Star-Ledger/nj.com from the Newark Water Coalition on Tuesday, Sept. 16, is so blatantly false in its facts and harmful in its language to my residents and the public, I must take it head-on.

Their assertion that I lied to the public is a lie itself. The City of Newark does all of its water testing and we are the ones that reported the high levels of lead in the first place. They are speaking about a statement that appeared on the City’s website that read: “the water source is safe” unless you have an older home with lead service lines. That remains true. Newark’s water isn’t filled with “deadly toxins.”

We have lead seepage that is impacting some of our residents and as soon as we got evidence from the EPA after testing our pipes, we acted swiftly in the distribution of 39,000 filters to homeowners in the area where our corrosion control had stopped being effective.

I say emphatically, we gave the public the information we had on lead levels as soon as it became available and we gave them accurate information.

The Newark Water Coalition asks “How long have our bodies been soaking in this?” neglecting the fact that Newark’s water is tested and reported monthly to the New Jersey State Department of Environmental Protection; residents and/or homeowners receive written notice of their test results within 10 days of the test being analyzed.

So, for the coalition to insinuate that the population has been systematically “poisoned” is the worst kind of fear-mongering. In addition, according to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, human skin does not absorb lead in water. They also estimate that drinking water can make up 20 percent or more of a person’s total exposure to lead.

The Newark Water Coalition failed to mention that my administration has been very aggressive and proactive in testing for elevated lead levels due to lead paint and dust in homes, which is the most dangerous cause of lead poisoning in people, especially urban children, nationwide.

Their characterization of “senior citizens, mentally disabled or mentally ill populations” having to carry loads of bottled water also ignores the fact we had hundreds of volunteers delivering water to the homes of people who needed it.

Even now, volunteers, led by members of our administration, continue to take cases of water with them during our door-to-door campaign to have people sign up for lead line replacements. To date, we have handed out or delivered more than 70,000 cases of bottled water and will continue as long as we need to.

Another fact lost in the Newark Water Coalition’s series of false alarms is that we made bottled water available because just two filters showed they weren’t as effective as we had hoped.

Our decision to make bottled water available was done out of extreme caution, not panic. It was done for the peace of mind of residents while our new corrosion control measures were taking hold, not because they were being poisoned.

I also find the Newark Water Coalition’s criticism of Gov. Phil Murphy insulting. A state of emergency would send a message that the city can’t solve its own problems or pull its own weight, neither of which are true.

Through Essex County Executive Joseph N. DiVincenzo and the Essex County Improvement Authority, we found an expedient immediate solution that will allow us to replace all lead lines in the city. We have already replaced close to 900 lead lines in the city with city funding. When the $120 million Essex County bond kicks in, the number of crews working in the city will grow exponentially and, in a little more than two years, Newark will be the first city in America to have rid itself of lead water lines.

That fact must have escaped the Newark Water Coalition, which, in its article, demands “real solutions in real time.” The truth is we’re doing better than “real time.” Experts told us the job of replacing 18,000 lead lines would take eight to 10 years. We’ll be done in a fraction of that time.

Are these above actions the work of “a morally bankrupt government?” or “crimes against humanity?”

For the Newark Water Coalition to suggest we are giving “greedy corporations an opportunity to wage war among the impoverished” goes beyond the realm of reality.

If anything, the exact opposite has happened. We are passing legislation to use public money to make lead-line replacements on private property for the public’s protection and safety. Our actions will make us a model city in how the national problem of lead water lines can be abated.

The Newark Water Coalition’s use of such language makes it clear that it has another agenda outside of helping Newark fix this problem or even supporting the growth of this city and its residents.

 

Ras Baraka is the mayor of Newark.

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