NJ Hypes $120 Million Plan to Slash the Time Needed to Replace Newark’s Toxic Lead Pipes

A woman leaves a recreation center after receiving free bottled water on Aug. 13, 2019, in Newark, N.J.
Photo: Spencer Platt (Getty)

As concerns continue to grow about dangerous lead in Newark, N.J.’s drinking water, Mayor Ras Baraka, along with county and state officials, announced a plan to speed up replacement of the city’s lead pipes to about two years—down from about 10.

Lead has been a concern for residents of New Jersey’s largest city for years, but things started coming to a head late last year when tests showed levels so high, the city began giving out water filters to residents to remove lead from their water.

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Then tests this year appeared to show the filters weren’t doing the job, and the city began giving out bottled water in some areas of the city.  

A plan to replace all 18,000 of the city’s ancient lead water pipes was estimated to take as long as 10 years to complete. But on Monday, as reported by the New York Times, Baraka, Essex County and New Jersey state officials, said the Essex County Improvement Authority would be taking out a $120 million loan on Newark’s behalf to cut the work time down to 24-30 months.

“We are going to do this as swiftly as humanly possible,” Baraka said.

The undertaking will be among the most massive of its kind, the Times notes.

Newark has some 18,000 lead lines, thousands more to replace than Flint, Mich., whose lead-contaminated water crisis has been a poster child for governmental neglect of underserved and marginalized communities.

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“I don’t know of any other city of this size that has tried to replace all their lead service lines in this kind of time frame,” Erik Olson, of the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental group that has sued Newark over the lead issue, told the Times.

In return for the cash, Newark will be on the hook to the county at a cost of $6.2 million a year for 30 years, as NJ.com reports:

Baraka, however, said Newark taxes will not increase to pay back the bond; he will seek state or federal funding to cover the debt.

U.S. Rep. Donald Payne Jr., D-10th Dist., said he’s consulted with U.S. Rep. Dan Kildee of Michigan, who represents Flint, to find federal funding for Newark.

“I’m not starting from scratch. I have a program that has worked,” Payne said. “There were federal dollars that were allocated to Flint during this time, and I’m looking to recreate that for Newark.”

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Still, replacing the lead pipes will not happen overnight. So, in the meantime, bottled water will continue to be distributed in Newark.

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