Newark to release lead filter testing results Monday, as 29K families rely on bottled water

Updated Sep 22, 2019

Gov. Phil Murphy together with Newark Mayor Ras Baraka will announce on Monday preliminary results showing whether the filters meant to eliminate lead from the drinking supply are working as city residents continue to rely on bottled water.

The highly-anticipated test results will be shared weeks after city and state officials raced to sample additional homes and figure out why two filters failed to reduce enough lead from the tap water. The troubling testing initially spurred the federal government to request a mass distribution of bottled water last month.

That was 42 days ago.

“I don’t think I could do this any longer,” residents Geegee Moore, 41, recently said. “I’m tired of brushing my teeth like this. I really wish they got it together.”

The city has handed out more than 70,000 cases of bottled water to more than 29,000 eligible families across 14,000 homes.

Baraka has told TV outlets he’s “optimistic” about the results.

Even if residents can again rely on filters, the 38,000 nationally-certified filters were only a stopgap solution. The city is fixing the treatment that caused lead from old pipes to leach into the water and replacing those underground pipes citywide over the next three years.

“For some people that we talk to, they see that as the beginning of the end,” said resident Al Moussab who is part of the ongoing lawsuit by the Natural Resources Defense Council against the city over the lead crisis. "But for a lot of us, we know that there’s still a lot to be done.”

New data obtained by NJ Advance Media from the state detail which homes have lead service lines and which have received filters, painting a clearer picture of the scope of the problem and the city’s efforts to combat it. While a majority of units with old lead pipes who are at risk of lead water received filters, about 15% did not -- in some cases, despite as many as seven visits by city officials, the data show.

Where are these lead pipes?

Newark’s inventory of old pipes that pump water to homes and businesses show there are about 18,900 lead service lines snaking underground. A majority are concentrated in the West (5,193) and South (4,404) wards, data show.

Residents receive water from one of two facilities. The Pequannock plant serves all of the West Ward, most of the South Ward and parts of the North and Central Wards. The Wanaque plant covers the East Ward, the Central Business District in the Central Ward, the Dayton section of the South Ward and parts of the North Ward.

Treatment at the Pequannock plant failed to stop lead pipes from corroding and flaking into the water, causing lead levels to spike in 2017. Only residents there are being urged to drink bottled water. While elevated lead levels have been found in some Wanaque homes, it is not a widespread problem.

More than half of all 25,500 service lines in the Pequannock area are made of lead. The rest are mostly made of copper. In Wanaque, less than half of the 10,400 service lines are made of lead, data show.

What kind of buildings are affected?

Nearly all of the buildings across the city with lead services lines are single- and multi-family homes. About 12,700 are one- and two-family homes.

One North Ward home’s lead pipe dates back to 1712.

However, more than 300 mixed commercial/residential buildings have lead pipes in both services areas, data show. These tend to be smaller buildings with a business on the first floor and residences on the top floor. There are 205 in the Pequannock area and 126 in the Wanaque area.

It’s not clear whether businesses have been also been offered filters or bottled water. City officials did not return requests for comment on Friday.

Who received filters?

About 86% of all 29,000 units with a known lead service line in the Pequannock area have received a filter, data show.

A majority of those filters were handed out in the West and South wards, but not every impacted family with a lead service line has received a filter or picked one up, according to the numbers. About 10,200 filters were distributed in the West Ward to residents with lead service lines and 7,500 in the South Ward.

Homes without lead services lines also received filters, possibly because they have other lead fixtures in their home or their tap water tested high for lead.

In the Wanaque area, only families with elevated lead levels in their tap water were eligible for filters. About 1,262 filters have been distributed here. Those families are not eligible for bottled water.

What is the city doing?

Newark began its filter distribution program in October and set up six pick-up centers. City officials also went door-to-door and in more than 150 cases, returned seven times, data show. Most homes with lead service lines were visited at least once and only one home was not visited at all.

Newark is also embarking on a massive lead service line replacement program that will cost $132 million and take 24-30 months to complete. City officials say more than 800 lead lines have already been replaced with copper pipes.

Data also show while most residents replied to the program, about 400 either declined to participate or deferred. At the time, the city asked residents to pay up to $1,000. Under a new county loan, residents will pay nothing. A new city ordinance will also allow officials to replace the privately-owned lead service lines even without homeowner permission.

The press conference will take place Monday at 1 p.m. in City Hall.

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