Lead

Ang Santos / WBGO

It’s a weeknight in Newark’s West Ward.  Roughly two dozen residents sit patiently waiting for city Department of Water and Sewer Utilities officials to start a presentation.

“About the water updates and the lead service line replacement discussion,” announces a city official, asking residents to take their seats.

“My home has been tested,” said Daniel Gibson, a retired West Ward resident.  “I do have a lead service line and I’m awaiting the city coming in to take it out.”

New Jersey will begin borrowing $100 million to pay for lead remediation projects in schools across the state and require educational facilities to test for lead contamination more often.

The efforts are Gov. Phil Murphy’s latest attempts to deal with growing public concern about lead contamination in homes and schools across the state.

“Lead contamination is not a Newark problem or an urban problem,” Murphy said at a Monday press conference in Bergenfield. “It’s a problem that has been building in communities up and down our state and, indeed, across the country.”

Ang Santos / WBGO

The city of Newark has taken several major steps in recent weeks towards replacing lead service lines in homes.  Essex County issued a 120-million-dollar bond for the city to speed up the process.  And Mayor Ras Baraka recently announced a lease deal made with the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey for 155 million dollars to help pay for it.

Baraka says Newark is the only city in New Jersey with a plan to fix every lead service line.

An Santos / WBGO

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.  

Ang Santos / WBGO

New Jersey officials say its unclear why samples of drinking water in Newark exceeded the US Environmental Protection Agency's standards for allowable levels of lead, even as those homes used EPA certified water filters.  

Of the three recent samples of water taken from Newark homes, only one came back with levels of lead reduced to the EPA's standard.  New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Catherine McCabe says she's meeting with federal officials to discuss what steps should be taken beyond handing out bottles of water to residents.

Ang Santos / WBGO

The City of Newark is set to replace up to 1,500 lead service lines over the next year. 

New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Catherine McCabe says the state will work with Newark to replace roughly 15,000 lead service lines.  The Lead Service Line Replacement Program is expected to cost about $75 million over eight years.

“At his point our infrastructure is decaying, and these pipes need to be replaced with newer, safer, and more reliable materials, but that’s expensive,” she said.

Ang Santos / WBGO

A recent independent study of Newark’s water supply showed a portion of the system as ineffective against preventing lead exposure to residents.   

“Those folks that are affected in areas of the city will be getting a filter until we put the right chemical to provide the necessary corrosion control in people’s lead service line’s, so they won’t be affected by the lead that enters into their water at all,” Mayor Ras Baraka said.

Bill Aimed At Identifying Lead Threat In Water Lines

Jun 15, 2018

Lead that gets into drinking water from old water pipes can cause serious health problems.

New Jersey lawmakers are considering legislation that would help assess the extent of that hazard.

A bill advanced by an Assembly committee would require public water systems to submit a list of lead service lines in their distribution system to the Department of Environmental Protection.

Chris Sturm with New Jersey Future says that’s an important step.

The drinking water at nearly 400 schools in New Jersey contains lead and advocates say the state must do more to address the problem.

The state is reimbursing school districts for the costs of the water testing.

Environment New Jersey director Doug O'Malley says that's a good start, but he believes remediating lead contamination from old pipes and fixtures should be a state priority.

NJ Getting New Lead Screening Standards

Feb 7, 2017

Governor Christie has signed legislation requiring New Jersey regulations on elevated lead levels in children's blood to be consistent with federal guidelines.

Ann Vardeman with New Jersey Citizen Action says that's a good move.

"This is what the science has shown is that smaller levels of lead can caused damage in children than what was previously thought. Previous levels that New Jersey had the actionable level was actually long after damage was being caused in children." 

21 NJ School Districts Report Lead In Water

Jan 26, 2017
Department of Education officials testify at legislative task force hearing
Phil Gregory

New Jersey schools have another six months to comply with a state directive to test their drinking water for lead contamination.

The New Jersey Department of Education says about half of its 586 school districts have completed their testing and 21 have reported elevated lead levels.

Project Manager Jim Palmer says the schools have to shut off contaminated fountains and sinks and come up with a long-term solution to resolve the lead problem.