Newark: No lead problem in city water, despite councilman's call for testing

By Bill Wichert | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com
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on March 21, 2016

 

NEWARK — In light of the elevated lead levels found in the drinking water at more than two dozen Newark schools, a city councilman on Monday called for the municipality to conduct its own independent lead testing of the city's water system.

At-Large Councilman Eddie Osborne said the city should act fast and hire an environmental consultant to perform the study, saying Newark residents "cannot wait for a state or federal agency to return our phone calls for answers."

"We need our own consultants, our own access to data and solutions, and we need it now!" Osborne said in a news release.

"This is a significant public health issue," Osborne added. "That's why we need an environmental consultant to conduct extensive testing of our water system, public schools, and municipal buildings to determine the extent of the problem especially as it pertains to infrastructure."

An environmental consultant would provide the city with a list of recommendations and offer "the intel we need to make informed decisions about our future," Osborne said.

"There is no greater threat to our city than a compromised water system," he said.

But City Communications Director Frank Baraff on Monday said the city conducts regular testing and "there is not a lead problem with City water."

"I don't believe that Councilman Osborne intended to suggest that the City's water system needs to be tested for lead. We are regularly testing for lead at 50 sample points around the city and it has been established that there is not a lead problem with City water," Baraff said in a statement.

"The problem exists only within the schools where old lead pipes and lead soldered fixtures cause lead to leach into the water," Baraff added. "With regard to testing the water within the schools, that is entirely the responsibility of the state-controlled Newark Public Schools (NPS) and inquiries for reaction should be addressed to them."

Osborne's call for water testing comes as school officials are in the process of testing the drinking water at all district buildings after elevated lead levels were recently discovered at 30 schools.

The district has offered optional blood testing to parents interested in having their children tested for potential lead poisoning. A total of 130 students were tested last week when testing began at two Early Childhood School locations, according to district spokeswoman Dreena Whitfield.

The next round of students' testing will be available over the next three days at the following locations from 8:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m and an educational presentation will take place between 7:30 a.m. and 8:30 a.m.:

  • Tuesday: Belmont Runyon Elementary School, 1 Belmont Runyon Way
  • Wednesday: (New) Speedway Academies, 701 South Orange Avenue
  • Thursday: First Avenue Elementary School, 214 First Avenue

Whitfield said district officials are still developing a plan for additional testing. The district declined to comment on Osborne's call for independent water testing by the city.

Over the last two weeks, the state Department of Environmental Protection has said the Newark Water Department's source water is clean and safe to drink. In most cases where lead is found in drinking water, the lead enters through the water delivery system by leaching from either lead pipes, household fixtures containing lead, or lead solder, the department has said.

Newark officials also have said the city's water supply is safe.

At a March 9 press conference, Newark Director of Water and Sewer Utilities Andrea Adebowale said that all city water remained safe for all purposes, and that the issues at the schools appeared to have originated in sinks, fountains or piping in the mostly aging buildings.

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