Newark will stop giving out bottles, urges residents to use filters for lead-laced water

Updated Oct 04, 2019

Starting next Tuesday, most Newark residents will no longer be able to pick up bottled water and should resume using city-issued filters to reduce lead levels in the tap, Mayor Ras Baraka said.

“Our message is simple: the filters work, use the filters,” Baraka said in a statement on Friday, after preliminary testing showed most of the filters worked to reduce lead in the drinking supply. "Those numbers make us comfortable to move forward without bottled water.”

Pregnant women and families with young children six years old or younger will still be able to pick up two cases of water every two weeks. The contaminant is particularly harmful for a child’s development and cognition.

Newark has distributed more than 123,000 cases of bottled water since Aug. 12 after initial sampling found two of three tested filters were not lowering lead levels in the water as expected. There is no safe level of lead but the federal government sets an allowable threshold of 15 parts per billion. Additional testing of 300 homes showed 97% of filters reduced lead to below 10 parts per billion and 99% worked if the water was first run for five minutes, Newark and state officials said.

The final filter study and sampling data have not been released. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which initially asked the city to hand out bottled water, said it was not yet making a final recommendation on bottled water.

“EPA has received a draft report from the city of Newark for review," a spokesman said in a statement Friday. "Once this review is complete, EPA will continue to coordinate with the state and city to finalize recommendations going forward.”

Newark spent $1 million to purchase 20,000 filters from PUR, a New Jersey-based company that additionally donated 20,500 filters. A PUR spokeswoman previously said the company was reviewing the results and working with city and state representatives but that performance of filters depended on proper installation and maintenance. "PUR remains committed to providing cleaner water through superior filtration and helping families in communities such as Newark improve the quality of their water,” she said.

It’s still unclear why the two initial filters and 3% of filters did not work as expected. Baraka told reporters earlier this week he didn’t think the final study would answer that question.

State Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Catherine McCabe previously told NJ Advance Media the failures couldn’t all be attributed to human error such as running hot water through the filter that renders it ineffective.

Newark will continue to distribute faucet and pitcher filters, which are nationally-certified to remove up to 150 parts per billion of lead. The filters have been used across the country.

What do we know about how filters were tested?

Filters were tested as they were installed by residents and cartridges were only changed if the light was flashing red -- meaning it needed to be replaced, according to a copy of the sampling protocol obtained by NJ Advance Media through a public records request.

Testers in homes where the cartridge needed replacing were told to explain the importance of filter maintenance to the resident. PUR pitcher cartridges last through 40 gallons of water use and faucet cartridges are certified for 100 gallons of use, the company said.

Homes that tested above 50 parts per billion of lead -- both with lead service lines and without -- were targeted in the sampling pool of about 300, the protocol said. Only buildings served by the Pequannock water plant, where a treatment known as corrosion control failed to prevent lead from leaching off old pipes and plumbing, were tested. Residents in the East Ward and slivers of the North, Central and South wards are not affected though the city is also replacing their lead pipes for free as part of its $134 million program to eradicate all 18,000 lead service lines that link water mains to homes.

If a home used another lead filter, those were also tested under the same protocol, which was prepared by city consultant CDM Smith shows.

The testing guideline also revealed additional information on the first round of filter sampling that initially set off alarm. When filters at two of three tested homes did not remove enough lead based on July tests, only those two failed filters were tested again in August.

Multiple samples were taken at those two homes to test water sitting along different parts of the distribution system (inside home plumbing, inside the lead service line and fresh water from the main). Results showed neither the faucet nor pitcher filter removed lead as expected from water sitting stagnant in the lead service line. But while the pitcher filter did not remove lead at expected levels from the water at any point, the faucet filter did effectively remove lead for water drawn from indoor plumbing and from the water main, records show.

Where to get bottled water?

The Junior League of Montclair-Newark, Inc. in coordination with the state junior leagues is donating 3,000 cases of bottled water to the Newark Water Coalition Saturday at 9:30 a.m. The water will be available for all families at St. Lucy’s Church.

“We’ve always stepped up to address crisis and have been at the forefront of social justice reform,” said Stephanie Hutton, president of the Junior League of Montclair-Newark, a women’s volunteer organization. “We felt it was our duty to pull our resources to help Newark in their time of need.”

Pregnant women and young families can continue to pick up bottled water at the Shani Baraka Women’s Resource Center and the Newark Department of Health.

The health department is located on 110 William St. Water pick-up is open Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday from 8:30 - 4:30 p.m., Thursday from 8:30 a.m. - 6:30 p.m., and the second and fourth Saturday of every month from 9 a.m. - 2 p.m.

The Shani Baraka Center, located at 300 Clinton Ave., is open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. - 5 p.m.

Filters and cartridges will be available at the following recreation centers Tuesday through Friday, from 11 a.m. - 7 p.m., and Saturday from 9 a.m. - 6 p.m.:

  • St. Peter’s Recreation Center, 378 Lyons Avenue
  • Boylan Street Recreation Center, 916 South Orange Avenue
  • Vince Lombardi Center of Hope, 201 Bloomfield Avenue
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