Newark Mayor Mayor Ras Baraka

Ethan Harp/WCBS 880

Newark Officials Offer Bottled Water To Residents With Lead Service Lines

August 12, 2019 - 6:56 am

NEWARK, N.J. (WCBS 880/AP) -- The governor of New Jersey and the mayor of Newark have vowed to provide bottled water to city residents with lead service lines after tests indicate filters may not be protecting them against elevated lead levels.

Gov. Phil Murphy and Mayor Ras Baraka said, however, in a statement Sunday evening that the city and state "will need support and assistance from the federal government." The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency had called on the city to distribute water "as soon as possible."

Home filters had been provided to some residents last fall by the city, but federal officials warned that they were not enough.

After a letter from the E.P.A. raised concerns about the safety of the city’s drinking water officials said they would start offering bottled water to the 40,000 homes in Newark elligible for bottled water.

In the letter, a top official at the E.P.A. sent the city a letter urging officials to provide bottled water to residents with lead pipes “as soon as possible.”

Gov. Philip D. Murphy of New Jersey and Newark’s mayor, Ras Baraka, said in a joint statement that they would provide bottled water at four local centers, starting as early as Monday afternoon.

“Access to safe drinking water is critically important to our administrations and we take health risks associated with lead in drinking water very seriously,” the statement said.

The decision to provide bottled water came after testing this month showed that water filters provided by the city were not properly removing lead.

"Two out the three homes, the filters may not been adaquately removing lead at the levels we want it to." said Mayor Baraka.

It was Newark’s strongest effort yet to address the problem and an acknowledgment of the severity of the public health crisis.

“We are unable at this time to assure Newark residents that their heath is fully protected when drinking tap water filtered through these devices,” the letter said in reference to city-issued water filters.

Erik Olson, the defense council’s senior director for health programs, said Mr. Baraka’s announcement was a good first step, but said the city should offer bottled water to even more residents.

“We’re concerned it might be a temporary thing and we’ll be back to where we started with thousands of citizens in Newark continuing to get water that is contaminated,” Mr. Olson said.

In January, Mr. Baraka called on President Trump to help the city with its lead problems instead of building a border wall. In a letter to the president, Mr. Baraka said it would cost about $70 million to replace lead service lines in Newark.

Mr. Murphy and Mr. Baraka said on Sunday that they would “need support and assistance from the federal government if bottled water is to be provided and distributed to impacted residents.”

For now, bottled water will only be available to residents in the Pequannock service area who have lead service lines and had received filters from the city, according to the statement from Mr. Murphy and Mr. Baraka.

The mayor says aging pipes are to blame and bottled water will be available while officials conduct additional testing.

(© 2019 WCBS 880. The Associated Press contributed to this report)