Newark lead levels are lower but still elevated, new water tests show

Posted Jan 06, 2020

Lead levels in Newark’s drinking water remain elevated but dropped slightly in the last six months, the latest sampling shows.

The results come amid the city’s aggressive $134 million program to remove every lead pipe providing water to homes and businesses.

Lead has plagued Newark’s water since 2017. City officials previously said they expected high lead levels to continue until a new water treatment takes full effect or lead pipes are replaced.

While no level of lead is safe, the federal government sets a threshold of 15 parts per billion. If more than 10% of water samples in a six-month monitoring period pass that mark, water systems must take action.

The latest test results for Newark’s water show the 90th percentile of more than 400 samples between July and December 2019 averaged about twice the federal limit. In the first half of 2019, testing showed lead amounts almost four times allowable levels.

Erik Olson, who oversees health programs for the Natural Resources Defense Council which is suing Newark and the state over the water crisis, said Monday it was too premature to determine whether the new lead prevention treatment was working to reduce lead. Lead levels tend to be lower in the winter months, he said.

He said the recent average was “still way higher than it was back in 2017 and the first half of 2018."

“For that reason, certainly people in Newark shouldn’t let their guard down," Olson said. “We’re hopeful that it’s going to start showing up as an improvement but we’re definitely not out of the woods.”

The home with the highest level of lead contained 92 parts per billion and was tested in December, results show.

Newark’s water woes escalated this summer when the federal government asked the city to distribute bottled water because a handful of filters meant to keep tap water safe failed to work. After a rash of new testing, city and state officials declared the filters safe to use and said they worked 99% of the time if installed properly and after water was flushed for five minutes.

Lead is particularly harmful for young children and can affect their developing brains. It’s also dangerous for pregnant or nursing women. The contaminant flakes off old indoor plumbing and skinny lead pipes known as lead services lines that pump water from underground mains to individual homes.

To date, workers have replaced 4,474 lead service lines out of 18,000 in the city, Newark officials confirmed Monday. A city spokeswoman did not comment on the latest water samples.

The state Department of Environmental Protection also did not respond to a request for comment.

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