Newark Mayor to Trump: Forget the Wall! Our City’s Water Has ‘Dangerously High’ Levels of Lead

Ras j. Baraka speaks on stage at the WSJ The Future of Everything Festival at Spring Studios on May 9, 2018 in New York City.
Photo: Michael Loccisano/Getty Images

Newark, N.J., Mayor Ras J. Baraka wrote a letter to Donald Trump, urging the president to ditch his potential plan to fund his long-sought border wall with emergency funds and instead send some of that money to Newark to replace faulty lead lines that are leaking “dangerously high levels of lead” into the city’s tap water.

“I am writing to express my deep concern that you are seriously thinking of declaring a national emergency to fund a proposed $5 billion border wall,” Baraka wrote to Trump in a Jan. 14 letter provided to The Root. “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.”

In his letter, Baraka wrote that “more than 20 other New Jersey cities and towns have elevated levels of lead in their tap water” and that those communities are mostly composed of black and brown residents.

Newark has responded to that crisis by distributing more than 25,000 water filters to impacted residents, with a goal of distributing 40,000 filters. Newark has also developed a public-private partnership with the State of New Jersey, the City of Newark, and eligible homeowners to replace lead service lines, a process that will take up to 10 years to complete.

The only way to correct the problem is by replacing the lead service lines in Newark, which the mayor says will cost around $70 million. It will cost hundreds of millions to replace the lines in other New Jersey communities. Federal funds are needed for the project, the mayor said in the letter.

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Baraka is clearly challenging Trump to allocate those funds for their intended purpose instead of for political gain.

He even gave a shout out to Little Miss Flint, concurring with her point that spending $5 billion on water infrastructure upgrades is a much better use of the money than a useless wall.

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“You have been saying that a border wall will save thousands of American lives, but that’s simply not true, instead of wasting billions of dollars to keep an ill-conceived campaign promise, I urge you to use our resources in a way that will truly save American lives—help repair our nation’s deteriorated water infrastructure,” the letter ends.

A representative for Mayor Baraka says the White House has yet to respond.

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About the author

Terrell Jermaine Starr

Terrell Jermaine Starr is a senior reporter at The Root. He is currently writing a book proposal that analyzes US-Russia relations from a black perspective.

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