Gov. Murphy steps in, offers state assistance in Newark lead water crisis after filter failure

Mayor Ras Baraka and Governor Phil Murphy appear at a press conference together in this file photo.

Governor Murphy's administration weighed in on the lead water crisis in Newark on Sunday, offering to help distribute bottled water to city residents in the wake of alarming news regarding attempts to lessen lead levels in Newark tap water. 

Murphy issued a statement in conjunction with Newark Mayor Ras Baraka, following an admission by the Baraka administration on Saturday that some water filters provided to Newark residents by the city to reduce lead levels in tap water are not working as expected in at least two homes. 

"As we carefully evaluate our options and the data available to us, it is important to understand that the City and State will need support and assistance from the federal government if bottled water is to be provided and distributed to impacted residents," the statement reads. "Access to safe drinking water is critically important to our administrations and we take health risks associated with lead in drinking water very seriously."

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Saturday urged Newark residentsto use bottled water for drinking and cooking until the results of the filter testing are fully understood, additional sampling is performed, and a reliable solution can be implemented.

The EPA said it has asked the city and state to immediately develop a plan to provide alternative sources of water to its residents in need and to provide guidance regarding flushing lead service drinking water lines before consumption and use.

"The EPA will also work with the city and state to assess alternate filtration options and provide enhanced education and awareness regarding the proper use of filters," the federal agency said.

Baraka announced at a Saturday afternoon press conference that the city’s initial test results involved a small sample of three homes. Filters in two of the three homes are not working as expected, Baraka said.

The city does not know the reason the filters are failing and plans to conduct additional tests and expand the sample size. However, the failures appear to have been associated when water in the line was stagnant for a time. 

City officials offered an initial solution in dealing with the lead water crisis. 

“If you live in the Pequannock area, have lead service lines and received a filter, the City of Newark encourages you to take one small step to ensure your filter is working effectively. Before drinking from your tap water, run the water for five minutes before filtering to maximize your filter’s effectiveness,” said Kareem Adeem, Acting Director of the Newark Department of Water & Sewer Utilities.

The city says residents should run their water before using it for any activity, including showering and washing dishes. 

Newark's water crisis stems from lead pipes, and not the source water. The chemical the city was treating its water with became ineffective at preventing lead from leaching off into pipes, which has caused Newark's levels to rise for about two years. 

The Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental advocacy group, filed suit in 2018 over the issue. The group alleges that city and state officials violated federal regulations that caused lead levels to rise. 

The city expects levels to decrease soon because it anticipates a new corrosion control inhibitor it began to treat its water with will start kicking in. In March, the city also began to replace lead service lines at a reduced cost to homeowners. 

In the meantime, the city distributed more than 38,000 water filters and 31,500 replacement cartridges since October 2018.

The Sunday statement issued by the Murphy administration stated that the governor and the mayor are prepared "to do everything the City needs, including making bottled water available to local residents."

According to a statement recorded by the city administration and sent to Newark residents via robocall on Sunday night, bottled water will begin to be distributed on Monday after 3 p.m. at several locations throughout the city. 

The statement issued from the governor's office further noted that The City of Newark is currently expanding testing of filtered drinking water to more Newark homes and, in coordination with the state Department of Environmental Protection, is actively working with the filter manufacturer to determine the scope of the situation and identify required corrective action as soon as possible.

No safe blood lead level in children has been identified, and low-level lead exposures in both children and developing babies have been found to affect behavior and intelligence, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).Lead exposure can cause miscarriages, stillbirths, and infertility in both men and women, according to the CDC. 

In general, lead affects children more than it does adults. Children tend to show signs of severe lead toxicity at lower levels than adults, according to the CDC. 

The recorded statement from the city noted that pregnant women and children under 6 years of age are of particular concern regarding lead water contamination. 

Families in the Pequannock service area with lead services lines who have received filters can pick up water at the following locations:

-The City of Newark Department of Health and Wellness
110 William Street

-Bo Porter Sports Complex
378 Lyons Avenue

-Boylan Street Recreation Center
916 South Orange Avenue

-Vince Lombardi Center
201 Bloomfield Avenue

Bottled water will be available while extensive water testing will be conducted, according to the statement issued by the governor's office.

The recorded statement from the Baraka administration informed residents that they will need to bring a proof of address when picking up bottled water. 

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