Newark touts end of lead water crisis as it continues replacing 18,000 pipes

Posted Jul 01, 2020

Newark officials are ready for their city’s water crisis to be over.

On Thursday morning, Newark Mayor Ras Baraka will lead a city press conference announcing that the city’s water is meeting federal lead standards for the first time in three years.

“This is the result of outstanding work of the administration, scientists and other experts in our Water & Sewer Department, our engineering firm CDM Smith and all of our county, state and federal government partners,” Baraka said in a statement on Wednesday. “Mostly, it is a day to thank Newark residents for their patience and cooperation as we work diligently to deliver them the purest water possible.”

The city’s announcement is not yet official with the state. Public records on the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection’s Drinking Water Watch website still indicate that Newark is exceeding the federal limit for lead.

That federal lead standard for drinking water is 15 parts per billion for the 90th percentile of samples collected. As of Wednesday evening, the DEP website shows the city’s water system at 16.7 parts per billion.

Newark’s drinking water is monitored for lead on a six-month basis; the most recent monitoring period began on January 1 and closed on June 30. Typically, the DEP takes up to two weeks to finish collecting and analyzing water samples before the state makes an official determination on if a water system is in compliance or not.

The DEP did not immediately respond to questions on Wednesday evening.

From the start of 2017 through the end of 2019, Newark exceeded the federal lead standard in six consecutive monitoring periods. At the height of that period, in the first half of 2019, the city’s water registered 57 parts per billion of lead.

Lead exposure can cause serious health effects, particularly to children. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, lead can damage a child’s brain and create learning and behavior problems. There is no safe amount of lead in a child’s blood.

The Natural Resources Defense Council sued the city over the elevated lead levels in 2018. That lawsuit is ongoing.

At the heart of the Brick City’s lead struggles are thousands of lead service lines — garden hose-sized pipes that connect individual properties to water mains. Though there is no lead in Newark’s water when it leaves the treatment plant, lead can flake off of those pipes and into the water just before it reaches the tap if the water is not treated with proper corrosion control.

The city is in the midst of replacing all of its lead service lines.

Almost 13,000 of our 18,720 lead lines have been replaced and we won’t stop until lead is eradicated from our water system,” Baraka said in Wednesday’s statement.

An NJ Advance Media investigation, published last December, found the corrosion control treatment at the city’s Pequannock water plant, which serves every one of Newark’s wards except the East Ward, failed as the city’s water department adjusted its treatment methods to try to deal with a different contaminant. It was this change in water quality, combined with the plethora of lead service lines in the city system, that caused the water crisis.

Newark began a new corrosion control treatment last May meant to address the water’s corrosive nature.

Newark’s water problems grabbed national attention last summer, when the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency requested the city hand out bottled water after doubts were raised about the effectiveness of city-distributed water filters.

In August, Essex County announced a $120 million bond program to pay for the replacement of more than 18,000 lead service lines in Newark, greatly expanding a program that had launched that spring with a $12 million loan from the state.

The city hasn’t handed out bottled water since October. In November, a report found the water filters distributed by Newark were 99% effective.

Thursday’s press conference is scheduled for 10:30 a.m. at 267 Martin Luther King Boulevard, across St. Michael’s Hospital at the corner of James Street.

Do you like this post?

Be the first to comment