Governor Murphy: "I drink Newark's water"

Gov. Phil Murphy delivered remarks at Saint James AME Church in Newark as the Rev. Dr. Ronald Slaughter, the senior pastor, looks on.

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy said Wednesday during a trip to Newark that he drinks the city's tap water despite growing concerns that the public water supplied to as many as 15,000 homes in the city has unsafe levels of lead.

"I'll drink it, 100 percent," Murphy said, sipping from a label-free bottle of water. "I have a second office in Newark, and I frequently don't have any bottled water, so I will take something out of the tap." 

Murphy's comments came as the debate continues to escalate over lead levels in Newark's water. The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), a non-profit international environmental advocacy group, filed a lawsuit against the city in the summer, alleging it is in violation of federal safe drinking laws. 

Newark city officials, including Mayor Ras Baraka, denied that the city's water system had any widespread lead contamination. The city administration asserted for close to a year and a half that there was no problem, although Newark received its first notice of noncompliance about elevated lead levels from the state in 2017.

The city has received three noncompliance notices for exceeding lead levels since 2017. The city also declared in an April 26 Facebook message, posted within two weeks before the May municipal elections, that there was no need to be concerned about lead levels in the city's water. The city's post declared in all caps that "NEWARK'S WATER IS ABSOLUTELY SAFE TO DRINK", adding that "The City’s water is NOT contaminated with lead." 

However, in October the city announced that 40,000 lead filters would be distributed to certain homes after a preliminary study found that the chemical used to prevent lead from dissolving into pipes was no longer effective. 

A city official claimed last month that one home in the East Ward once showed elevated levels of lead because a disgruntled former city employee tampered with the testing, stating that the fabricated lead levels could have been done with a pencil even though pencils contain graphite, a non-toxic mineral, rather than lead. 

The city has taken an overall defensive posture regarding the lead issue as both national print and television media have questioned why the problem has progressed to this point, with more testing expected.

The NRDC has claimed that statements made by the mayor at an October press conference about the issue were "misleading." But a federal judge yesterday denied a request from the NRDC to have the city extend a filter program into the East Ward. 

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. 

As Murphy fielded a series of questions at a press conference at Saint James AME Church about how he has handled New Jersey's problems during his first year in office, he stopped to amplify his answer about Newark's lead problem.

"I recognize there are challenges and we're working with Mayor Baraka, who I can't say enough good things about. He needs help," Murphy said, noting that a recent meeting with New Jersey's incoming 2019 congressional delegation highlighted the need for federal help to fix the state's infrastructure problems, including lead. "This is a national problem, and there are a bunch of other cities, including communities in this state, that have this problem. But the answer [about Newark's water] is that I'd drink it."

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