Fears and Frustrations as Newark, NJ, Hands Out Bottled Water Amid a Lead-Contaminated Water Crisis of Its Own

Newark, N.J., Mayor Ras Baraka speaks about the city’s ongoing water crisis Aug. 14, 2019, in Newark. At left is Kareem Adeem, acting director of Water and Sewer Utilities in Newark and New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy.
Photo: Rick Loomis (Getty)

Inspiring comparisons to the water crisis in Flint, Mich., New Jersey’s biggest (and predominantly black) city, Newark, is handing out bottled water to its residents amid a worsening contaminated water crisis.

Like Flint, the problem in Newark is that much of its tap water is contaminated with lead. It’s a problem that first started percolating at least three years ago, according to the New York Times. But city officials hemmed and hawed over whether the problem was “extensive” before handing out water filters to residents in areas deemed most at risk last year.

Advertisement

Now, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has issued a dire warning about lead contamination, and New Jersey environmental officials found a problem with “ineffective corrosion treatment” at one of the city’s two water-treatment facilities.

In addition, according to NJ.com, testing found that two out of three filters tested in three Newark homes failed to effectively reduce lead contamination.

All of this has led to concern that the filters somehow were a fail (you think?), and now Newark is giving residents in key areas bottled water while it figures out how to fix the problem.

While Flint’s problem stemmed from a decision to change the city’s water source, Newark’s issue apparently stems from how little things have changed.

Advertisement

Plagued with an aging infrastructure and decades of poverty and fewer resources, many of the houses in Newark still have lead water pipes, the Times explains.

As The Root reported earlier this year, in an open letter to Donald Trump, Newark Mayor Ras Baraka urged the president to spend money on fixing the city’s—and nation’s—old water-delivery systems, rather than on a border wall:

“I want to bring your attention to a true emergency that puts millions of our citizens at risk: The decaying infrastructure of our water systems which has created a crisis in Newark, the State of New Jersey and across America. Dangerously high levels of lead are entering homes and our children’s blood through lead service lines despite the fact that any level of lead can damage the developing brains of young children.”

Advertisement

For now, Newark is introducing an additive to the water supply to coat the lead pipes and thus keep the dangerous substance from leaching into the water that runs through them.

The city is also working on replacing the 15,000 lead service lines that connect the city’s water mains to each home or business, a costly undertaking that is not as simple as it sounds. As NJ.com explained in a story last year:

The city’s lead service line inventory, obtained through a public records request, shows some pipes some date to the 1880s.

[...]

The City Council [in August 2018] approved a $75 million bond program to replace the city’s lead service lines through a 10-phase, eight year program. The city does not own the 34,000 service lines that connect the water supply to homes, which means residents are responsible to pay to replace the lines on their property, officials say.

Advertisement

Now, what was admittedly a stopgap measure of water filters doesn’t seem to be working.

Residents are understandably wary and worried.

“We’re ducking bullets, we’re ducking and dodging bullets every day,’’ resident Nafessah Venable told the Times. “We can’t even take our kids out to play. Now we’ve got to worry about water? Water is a necessity for life. How can we survive without clean water? It’s tragic, and it’s very mind-boggling to wonder what the future holds in terms of the water system.”

Share This Story