As Newark Replaces Lead Service Lines, Advocates Say Residents Are Still At Risk

Mar 10, 2020

Newark based clean water advocates host a panel discussion at NJIT
Credit Ang Santos / WBGO

These advocates say they dedicate a lot of their time towards improving water quality in Newark.  Between full time jobs, parenting, the struggle is…

“O wow, the struggle is real,” says Newark activist, parent and social worker Shakima Thomas.  “Keeping people involved is a difficult task because people are concerned with what is going on now in their lives.  What they can see or actively change in the moment.” 

Thomas explains that the difficulty with treating lead in drinking water and its negative effects on health takes time and so…

“Pumping people up to fight something that’s going to happen to them in the future is very difficult because they can’t see the future.  They can’t see that happening.”

Ang Santos: “But if you reach one person, right?”

Shakima Thomas: “Yes, somebody reached me, so I was that one person in the beginning.  I didn’t know what was going on.”

That’s the case still for many residents says Newark Public Schools teacher and activist Yvette Jordan. 

“Since everybody is under the assumption that lead service lines are being fixed and everything is fine, they don’t realize you still need to do certain things.  It’s this ongoing education, ongoing outreach.  Our city is, I don’t’ want to say derelict, but really slow in addressing.”

And Jordan says that lack of public education response from Government has affected students in her classrooms.

“For example, I would say to my students, what are you doing in terms of water in your house.  Certain students would say, ‘I don’t know why you’re asking and saying that all of the time, lead service lines or whatever they’re called are fixed, so everything is fine.’  Other students are saying ‘I am using water and it’s bottled water; however, my mom isn’t.  That is not good.”

Many are concerned for Newark children that have been exposed to contaminated drinking water, and what policies lawmakers will put in place for their needs. Sabre Bee is a co-founder of the Newark Water Coalition.

“What are we going to do with these kids that have lead poisoning they’re going to need special programs for education.  They’re going to need health education and health support.  How are we now treating that?  Right now, the city is only talking about treating infrastructure, but the people make this city not just the streets and the pipes.”

Sabre Bee says her organization is working with other Newark groups on a plan to create a larger safe drinking water coalition with activists in other cities.

“We sell our water to 20 other municipalities and those municipalities are also effected.  Once they start getting tested and their lead results come in, we want to be able to give them the steps that we took and better steps that we took so they can get the results they need quickly.”

In the meantime, the Newark Water Coalition with other local advocates are planning a demonstration at NJPAC before Mayor Ras Baraka’s State of the City address, with hopes of keeping the public’s eye on what’s been called a drinking water crisis.