Cars are parked with their emergency lights on in front of the Vince Lombardi Center in Newark’s north ward. Brawny men use hand trucks to cart cases of water from the building to the cars, loading them in for residents.
“We’re giving out water as precaution, I think the distribution centers are moving excellently,” said Mayor Ras Baraka taking questions from reporters.
Baraka explains how the lead corrosion chemical in the Pequannock water treatment plant has been ineffective in removing the dangerous substance from leaching into the water from pipes in old homes, and that previously the city was handing out water filters to residents, until two water samples from homes using those filters had lead levels that exceed the federal standard.
“We have an abundance of water. People have been giving us water from all over, even private residents,” he said.
Inside of the water distribution center, it shows. Stacks and stacks of bottled water cases are available for affected Newark residents. Baraka says it’s not even the busiest center.
“Besides the north ward, the west ward is one of our busiest because everybody in the west ward is affected by this if you have a lead service line,” he said. “This whole entire ward is fed by the Pequannock water system. It’s the highest point in the city. This is the only ward in the entire city where it’s fed completely by Pequannock.”
A large industrial sized fan keeps the building cool for volunteers as they cart bottled water outside to west ward residents. Juba Dowdell with Newark’s Office of Emergency Management talks about the inventory.
“84 cases in a pallet, 24 bottles in a case. Our burn rate across the city is about 50 palettes day.”
If you’re wondering how many that is, Dowdell suggests you do the math.
“We’re giving them four cases per household, per visit. They come anytime they want,” he said.
Some affected Newark residents have complained about a lack of transportation to bring cases of water back to their homes. Dowdell says the ride-share company Lyft is offering help.
“I understand Lyft has a program with the city where they’re giving residents free rides to and from their residences to the various four sites,” he said.
At the Community Food Bank of New Jersey in Hillside, it’s a slightly different scene than the other water distribution sites.
A truck is hauling a donation of bottled water cases into the Food Bank’s massive facility.
A motorized dolly carries the whole palette of bottled water to a room designated for donations to Newark.
“The Mayor’s office put the word out and we answered the call from City Hall,” said Julienne Cherry, director of Agency Relations with Community Food Bank of New Jersey. “We have donors, cities, local donors that come here and drop of palettes of water to the Community Food Bank of New Jersey.”
“I’m encouraged, the kind of response we’re getting from community partners, friends, and people that are just concerned with what is going on” said Mayor Baraka. “It’s just overwhelming.”
Mayor Baraka hopes donations of bottled water continue as Newark works around it’s drinking water issue. He says an announcement is possible as early as this week on advances towards a remedy for lead in the city’s drinking water.