Murphy launches health hotline as questions over Newark lead water crisis rise

Updated Aug 22, 2019

Newark’s ongoing lead water crisis is prompting more questions than answers as the city continues distributing bottled water to nearly 14,00 homes.

Now residents can call a 24-hour hotline with questions on the health effects of lead exposure or where to pick up water in Newark, Gov. Phil Murphy announced Thursday.

A crew of doctors, nurses and pharmacists will be available to answer calls at 1-866-448-2432. Assistance will be available in 150 languages.

“Young children and pregnant women are most at risk for lead exposure. Even low levels of lead in blood can affect a child’s ability to pay attention, achieve milestones at school and may even cause behavioral problems,” New Jersey Department of Health Acting Commissioner Judith Persichilli said in a statement.

“Most children with lead exposure don’t exhibit symptoms. That’s why it’s so important that children under six, nursing mothers and pregnant women (are) tested for lead exposure,” Persichilli added.

Newark began distributing bottled water after new sampling showed filters at two of three tested homes were not removing lead from the drinking water at expected levels. State and city officials have since scrambled to test additional homes to figure out why the nationally certified filters didn’t work. More than 39,000 have been distributed in the city.

Murphy said hundreds of tests will be conducted — a process that could take weeks.

The state has provided more than 70,000 cases of bottled water, available to pregnant or nursing women in the city and residents served by the Pequannock treatment plant that pumps water to all of the West and South wards and parts of the North and Central wards.

“If this goes on for a period of time, we’re probably gonna need other sources of bottled water,” Murphy said Thursday at an unrelated event at Montclair State University. “At the moment, we don’t. But that’s another potential role the federal government could play.”

The governor and the New Jersey congressional delegation have repeatedly asked the federal government — who requested bottled water distribution in the first place — to step up and contribute.

“We need the federal government because this is bigger than one state or one community,” Murphy said.

This week, Assemblyman Jamel Holley, D-Union, called on Murphy to declare a state of emergency and deploy the state National Guard to hand out water. Murphy said he would not issue an emergency declaration.

“You call a state of emergency if you’ve outspent your capacity, if you are beyond your means, whether it’s the community, the county, or the state,” the governor said Thursday. "And we’re not in that situation.”

He denied that it didn’t make sense to not declare a state of emergency and then seek federal help.

“We’re not declaring a state of emergency because we don’t need to,” Murphy added. “We have the resources, we have the capabilities at the moment. This is something we’ll revisit depending on where the road takes us.”

University Hospital is also offering free lead screenings for Newark residents from 9 a.m. - 5 p.m. on Saturday. Newark residents who want their water tested free of charge can call the city at 732-733-6303.

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