Signed in as:
By Walter Elliott and Lev D. Zilbermints
NEWARK - Essex County, as of 7 p.m. Aug. 27, is a couple of public hearings and a state agency's permission away from loaning the City of Newark $120 million to expedite the latter's lead service line replacement project.
The Essex County Freeholders, the Essex County Improvement Authority and the Newark Municipal have been working, for institutions, at lightning speed since Essex County Executive Joseph N. DiVincenzo's Monday morning announcement of his financing plan.
Newark's council, in a special 10:07 a.m. Tuesday meeting, unanimously adopted a $120 million refunding bond ordinance, it's inclusion into the city's 2019 municipal budget and a permission application to the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs Local Finance Board. The refunding bond ordinance itself is to have a public hearing and an anticipated final adoption in a Sept. 10 special session.
The county freeholders, in their special 4 p.m. Tuesday session here at the Hall of Records, passed its ECIA Municipal Infrastructure Bond Guaranty on first reading. County elders have scheduled a public hearing on the guaranty and its likely final adoption Sept 11.
The council and freeholders approvals sent ECIA Commissioner Clifford Ross, of Orange, rushing from the Hall of Records 5 p.m. to join his four colleagues at their scheduled meeting in Fairfield. The commissioners likely waited for Ross to make his 30-minute drive to their offices at Essex County Airport before making their affirmative vote.
The County/ECIA/Newark funding plan, as an overview, consists of the authority putting $120 million onto the bond market. The city - pending on the Sept. 10-11 public hearings and the DCA Local Finance Board's decision - will receive the $120 million sometime this autumn.
The $120 million is to accelerate Newark's current 10-year, $75 million lead service line replacement program underway since May.
Mayor Ras Baraka, during DiVincenzo's announcement in the Sheila Oliver Conference Room here in the county's LeRoy Smith Public Safety Building, said that the additional funds would allow the city to hire more contractors to replace some 15,000 lead service lines linking residential properties with the Newark Water Supply-Pequannock mains.
Baraka affirmed DiVincenzo and Gov. Phil Murphy's Monday statements that the loan will cut the LSL replacement project's time length from 10 years to 24 to 30 months. The project's cost, which includes $12.1 million in state funding, would rise to $207.1 million.
Newark, starting at a predetermined date, will start paying back the $120 million at $6.1 million annually for the bonds' 30-year life. The county will use its AAA bond rating to be the loan's guarantor should the city encounter any financial problems 2020-50.
It is not known, as of Noon, Aug. 28, when the NJDCA's Local Finance Board will hear the city and county's request.
The DCA's Local Government Services Division board's next scheduled meeting is set for Oct. 9, with applicants having until Sept. 18 to file their requests.
It is unknown whether the LFB will grant an emergency allowance to Newark/Essex County to get on the Trenton panel's Sept. 11 meeting agenda. Aug. 21 was that session's applicant filing deadline. Its Sept. 11 agenda, as of 1 p.m. Aug. 28, has not been posted.
DiVincenzo (D-Roseland), Murphy (D-Rumson) and Baraka were among the public officials who praised each other Aug. 26-27 for coming up with the bonding over meetings the previous week. They were quick to point the loan out as an example of different layers of government working together.
For all the praise and mutual congratulations, however, the bond offer is a 30-year loan - a financial step towards resolving the Newark area lead-in-water crisis.
There is still the contractors' bidding process that Newark must undertake. It is uncertain whether the Baraka Administration will follow the lowest responsible bidder awarding process - or if the mayor will bypass it on emergent grounds.
Mayor Baraka, at Monday's announcement, said he was considering forwarding legislation to the council for city workers and contractors to replace LSLs on private property - without the owner's permission. Baraka indicated that not seeking property owners' permission or
notifying them would also accelerate the LSL replacement process.
There are also watchdogs - as evidenced during the Newark Water Coalition-led demonstration outside the Prudential Center Aug. 26 before the MTV Video Music Awards ceremony - who will continue to press on elected officials.
Deborah Smith Gregory, for example, was present at both Newark special votes Tuesday. The NAACP-Newark Branch President was moved to remind the council about making the bonding legislation "crystal clear."
"There are residents whose trust in this government has eroded," said Gregory before Council President Mildred Crump, her colleagues (absent of East Ward Councilman Augusto Amador) the TV-78 camera and a Council Chamber gallery audience of 60. "We want to know of every i dotted and t crossed of what's being approved."
"We do, too," replied Crump. "That's why we're entering an executive session before voting."
That 30-minute closed session among the eight council members and Newark Corporate Counsel Kenyatta K. Stewart revised the three bills. It added a provision that Baraka mentioned in passing Monday - and may provide immediate relief for property owners served by NWS-Pequannock.
"We're going to waive the $1,000 requirement for homeowners to have their lead lines replaced," said the mayor. "I don't think the bills have gone out yet for our Phase I homeowners. Those bills won't be sent out to Phase II-X homeowners."
Baraka was referring the 10 replacement area phases that the city's original 10-year plan. He and several officials said that Phase I has replaced more than 700 LSLs - although various officials' numbers ranged from 707 to 770.
The mayor, Monday, also said that he was seeking and welcoming further aid from state and federal sources - which brought an immediate response from DiVincenzo and from Tuesday afternoon's Freeholders meeting.
The freeholders (minus the absent Leonard Luciano, of W. Caldwell) learned from their attorney and bond counsel that afternoon that any future lead-in-water funding Newark receives from Trenton or Washington, D.C. will go towards paying the bond's debt service.
DiVincenzo, a few minutes after Baraka's extra funding-seeking comment, turned to Cong. Donald M. Payne, Jr. (D-Newark). Payne, whose field office was across the hall from the Oliver Conference Room, was the only "Local Talk" Congressional delegation member present.
"The one (level) that's lacking is the federal government," said "Joe D." "You've got to bring home the cash."
Payne was also present to receive Newark Water Coalition members for a private 2 p.m. meeting there. It would be a long day for the NWC, who decided to follow through on their pre-VMA protest within in a block of the Prudential Center.
The coalition was pressing, and still pressing, for water testing and bottled water deliveries throughout the city, regardless of NWS's Pequannock or Wanaque distribution system.
The city maintains that its lead water sample tests of homes served by Wanaque, mainly the East Ward and the eastern part of the North Ward, does not warrant LSL replacement or free water filter/pitcher distribution. The Natural Resources Defense Council and NEWCaucus, in their 15-month-old lawsuit against the city and the state Department of Environmental Protection, are urging citywide testing, delivery and distribution.
NWC and allied marchers, 146 according to "Local Talk," stepped off from Penn Station West Plaza towards a preset barricade across Edison Place. Demonstrators, after 20 minutes, noticed a service road open to the south and walked to Triangle Park, directly east of "The Rock" arena.
Demonstrators, for the next hour, chanted at the bulk of the estimated 18,000 VMA show-goers. A few tried to hand NWC material to those either passing by or were waiting for their staged entry to move. Mounted Newark police eventually moved in to separate the parties.
"We Don't Want No MTV," was one of their chants, "We Want Our Water Lead-Free."
A sideshow developed when some demonstrators noticed Rahaman "Rocky" Muhammad standing on a former CNJ Railroad embankment near the now-Ironside Building. The Deputy mayor of Staff Operations and Employment was standing by himself, recording the scene before him.
"This administration, with that man recording us, because we're demanding accountability," declared one activist at large on a bullhorn. "We want people to be held (on) criminal negligence charges. It ain't over."
"He stands up here and laughs because his citizens don't have clean water?" said NWC head Anthony Diaz. "This' who represents us. And this' who I have to trust that he's going to do right by us with $120 million?"
"Local Talk," WPIX-11 and a couple of other reporters approached Muhammad for his side of the story.
"I was recording the MTV Music Awards; they happened to show up at the awards" said Muhammad. "They start calling my name, start saying things about me. We got what they wanted this morning."
Muhammad, after imploring a The Young Turks-TV reporter, "Don't twist this," repeated "I'm done" seven times and walked away.
Marchers, once the volume of show-goers diminished, returned to the Edison Place barricade and the one on Market Street near Mulberry Street. Their number, 75 by then was equal to the Newark Police, Livingston Police, Essex County Sheriff's officers, State Police and, by Ironside, Commercial District Security combine.
"Local Talk" was about the last reporter to leave at 7:30. Several other news sources reported up to five individuals arrested from there by 7:40 p.m. The five were reportedly arrested on either disorderly conduct or trespassing charges for jumping the barricades into the guest line.
Newark Public Safety Director Anthony Ambrose called the arrested "out-of-towners" who "were apparently not satisfied with the arrangement" to have Triangle Park set aside "in support of their Constitutional rights.
"A few, and I mean a very few, who tried to jump police barricades," said Ambrose late Monday. "When that happens, it becomes a public safety issue."
By Walter Elliott
NEWARK - A federal judge may have ruled on whether Newark's bottled water distribution should expand to all city residents by when you read this.
U.S. District Court Judge Esther Salas has heard arguments from both sides of "Natural Resources Defense Council/Newark Education Workers Caucus v. City of Newark/New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Catherine McCabe" Aug. 15-16, within 24 hours after the plaintiffs asked for an injunction to start citywide bottle distribution.
Salas, since, had not set a timeline on when she will rule on the injunction from her Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Building and U.S. Courthouse.
The City of Newark meanwhile continues the free distribution of cases of bottled water as it has since Aug. 14. The distribution, from specified city locations, is open to residents who identify themselves as living within the area served by the Pequannock Water System: The West, Central and South wards plus the western half of the North Ward.
Acting Newark Water and Sewer Utilities Director Kareem Adeem, in an Aug. 16 memo, directed his employees to give water cases to those in line who are pregnant, nursing and/or accompanied with small children regardless of city address. Adeem stressed to a New York City television reporter that Friday that his directive did not change city policy.
That city policy limits water bottles to those served by Newark Water Supply's Pequannock system - where two of three homes outfitted with free PUR water faucet filters were found with 15 parts of lead per billion parts of water Aug. 9 triggered the giveaway.
Newark policy maintains - in and out of Salas' courtroom - that residents in the East and remainder of the North Ward served by its Wanaque system are unaffected.
Door-to-door water case distribution, said city officials and attorneys, would be costly and inefficient use of Newark's resources. They are making remediation and improvements to the Pequannock system and that it takes time for the lead test reading results to start turning around.
NRDC and NEW Caucus used the two PUR-filtered home readings Aug. 9 as proof of a citywide water emergency. They continue to fault Newark and the DEP for what they said were violating federal law in monitoring and handling the three-year-old crisis.
The plaintiff's desire for Salas' injunction may be seen as a ramping-up of their 14-month-old case against the city and state. They have argued in July 2018 that the Pequannock and Wanaque systems have three interconnections before reaching Newark, resulting in blending of water. They have also argued before Salas that homes served by Wanaque may still be exposed to lead in their service lines and fixtures.
Adeem, Aug. 15, testified that around seven Pequannock-Wanaque interconnection gate valves were open "for an indeterminate amount of time" before they were closed in January. The resulting blending may therefore account for an early 2019 spike in lead level readings among some East Ward homes sampled.
Baraka named Adeem acting director Nov. 28, succeeding Director Andrea Hall Adebowale, who died Nov. 7.
Newark, last autumn, launched a free PUR water faucet and pitcher distribution outreach after the DEP and city-hired tester CDM Smith, of Edison found the city failing the EPA's "actionable" 15 ppb threshold in a majority of sampled homes 2.5 of the last three years. (Test sampling was done every six months.)
The city also started a 10-year, $75 million lead service line replacement and discount program for 15,000 of its 70,000 residences. The 15,000 are in NWS's Pequannock service area. Free water and blood tests are also available.
Newark, post-Aug. 9, has been huddling with DEP and EPA officials on starting an enhanced or additional water sampling and testing program; that more-extensive testing is projected to start in late September.
Some of the PUR water filters are also being tested since Aug. 16. The testing is to determine whether the two 15 ppb-plus readings were a matter of rare failure, operator error or of failing to upkeep the National Sanitation Foundation International's certified standard.
The filters were touted as residents' first line of defense in reducing, if not eliminating, lead buildup in the lines and fixtures.
"We absolutely don't have enough one way or another," said Baraka Aug. 14, "to determine whether the filters are working or not."
That NSF International certification, set by the Ann Arbor. Mich.-based group, was what led Newark to buy 40,000 PUR filters in October. Other towns served by NWS-Pequannock are also testing the PUR filters they have given out.
Salas, Friday, said she had wanted to see when the EPA and DEP will finish testing those PUR filters in the Pequannock service wards.
The U.S. Department of Justice - New Jersey District judge said neither side convinced her one way or another.
Salas said that the plaintiffs' attorneys had failed to make a compelling case that the East Ward and part-North Ward residents would suffer "irreparable harm" if they do not receive bottled water.
The magistrate also faulted the defendants' lawyers for not providing new information.
"There's clearly not a written policy on what's happening," said Salas. "That makes me feel like we don't have a handle on what's coming."
Baraka, Murphy and Sen. Cory A. Booker (D-Newark) are meanwhile seeking federal funds and water donations.
Baraka, on Aug. 16, announced that the city, the United Way of Essex and West Hudson and Hillside's Community Food Bank of New Jersey have established a fund to accept and coordinate bottled water donations.
The coordination may help prevent the city from having to recall a fifth of the first 70,000 cases it had distributed Aug. 13-14. Distribution was halted when 20,000 cases were found to have "Use By" dates - of May 30. A state agency, under Gov. Murphy's watch, replaced those cases.
The use-by mishap prompted an Aug. 20 call by Assemblyman Jamil C. Holley (D-Roselle) to have the National Guard distribute water cases and either a state or federal takeover of the Newark Water Supply and/or Newark Department of Water and Sewer Utilities.
Deploying the National Guard for any purpose in or around Newark, given its actions during the July 1967 riots or rebellion, may prompt chills and rejection by contemporaries.
Baraka considers Holley's call, as of Aug. 21, a non-starter for another reason.
"Let me be clear about one thing," said the mayor. "The City of Newark is not interested in turning over our water source to any outside entity."
The Maplewood-based MEND Hunger Relief Network has transported 80 cases donated by the United Presbyterian Church of West Orange and Maplewood's Tuscan School to Newark's Elizabeth Avenue-Weequahic Presbyterian Church Aug. 18. MEND intends to make another run Aug. 26.
The National Action Network-Newark Chapter gathered cases from the Elizabeth area Home Depot, Shop-Rite, Stables and Walmart for distribution Aug. 18.
The 17,000 cases Paradise Baptist Church Pastor Jethro J. James and Holley distributed regardless of address in the West Ward July 20, however, was less than warmly received.
Holley - who is also Irvington's public works director and a former Roselle mayor - gathered the cases from New Jersey City University, Walgreen's-Elizabeth and the Hillside-Linden area on Rev. James' behalf.
Former Councilwoman Gayle Chaneyfield Jenkins told a reporter Tuesday that she was present in the City Hall office where Baraka, his chief of staff and corporation counsel had a conference call with Holley.
Jenkins said that Ras and Amiri Baraka, Jr. told Holley that he should have removed his Aug. 15 Facebook post that the city's water is poisonous.
"Local Talk" found a professionally made handbill on Holley's Aug. 15 post with the following line: "I cannot stand by and watch our most vulnerable human beings suffer from poisonous lead levels in Newark."
15 ppb is the EPA's actionable level. There is, however, no “safe” lead content level for the human body. The NRDC has called on the EPA to lower its actionable level to 5 ppb.
East Orange Water Commission Acting/Interim Executive Director Christopher Coke told the commissioners and 12 members of the public present at their Aug. 20 meeting that he offered Newark his "operational and professional assistance."
Murphy hopes to use the information gleaned from McCabe's April 15 visit to Capitol Hill to apply for federal funds to bankroll Newark's water distribution.
"It's important to understand that the City and State will need support and assistance from the federal government if bottled water is to be provided and distributed to impacted residents," said Murphy Aug. 11.
The EPA, on Aug. 11, had recommended Newark residents, "out of an abundance of caution," to use bottled water.
Murphy, however, on Aug. 21, refused to declare a state of emergency on Newark over the water crisis.
"It's too early to tell what the results are," said Murphy Wednesday. "They're testing 20 sites a day. We sure as heck need more than three data points before we draw conclusions."
Booker, on Aug. 19, joined Sen. Robert Menendez (D-Paramus) and Congressmen Donald M. Payne, Jr. (D-Newark) and Albio Sires (D-Union City) in pressing the U.S. Department of Agriculture's WIC funds for additional blood screening.
"The EPA needs to provide on-the-ground support and resources for Newark residents who've been affected by lead exposure," Tweeted Booker Aug. 14. "It's shameful that our national crisis of lead-contaminated drinking water disproportionally hits poor black and brown communities like my own."
By Lev Zilbermints
Lev Zilbermints: During the court case Thursday and Friday, what transpired? What did the City's lawyers argue? What was the Coalition's response?
Sabre Bee: The city seemed to pass the buck to the Department of Environmental Protection. They implied that the NRDC is suing the wrong party. The Coalition believes, wholeheartedly, that the residents are the only ones who are not blameworthy and that the "powers that be" need to align and provide sufficient, long-term solutions to this crisis.
LZ: What do you think of the City's response so far, now that attention is focused on Newark?
SB: The City has maintained that since they've known about the issue they have done their best to provide solutions. We have evidence that the City's response has been insufficient, at best, and the image that they are painting of their response is hyperbolized and irresponsible.
LZ: Do you think the water filters are adequate or not? Why?
SB: (With no shade to Pur) The filters could be adequate, in homes, if experienced people were installing them into each home. IF residents were given small presentations of best practices to keep the filters working properly then the water filters could be adequate. However, since residents are given the filters without direction, instructions, or installation assistance, the filters may not be used properly.
LZ: The lead pipes date back to the 1880s - 1890s in some cases. Previous mayors, Democrat and Republican, did nothing to improve the situation. Any comment?
SB: The historical negligence on the part of the administration has landed us in this situation we are in today. Each mayor, up until 2019, shares a part of responsibility.
LZ: Your St. Lucy's Church will be distributing water tomorrow. Who contributed the water bottles? What is the cost?
SB: The Newark Water Coalition inquired with Shop Rite about making a donation, and in the process of getting everything confirmed, decided to purchase two pallets worth of water. We rented a UHAUL to ship the cases, drove the water to St. Lucy's church, and unloaded, case by case - without a hand-truck! We even had to enlist the help of some local residents, paying them out of our own pockets.
LZ: What measures should be undertaken to end the Newark Water Crisis, in your view?
SB: To end the crisis there needs to be real reconstruction that happens for each and every ward in the city. The lead service pipes need to be replaced, the main water reservoirs need to be treated and better maintained, and the public needs to be informed of each step in the process. We demand more transparency.
LZ: Have there been cases of people getting sick from lead in the water?
SB: We know that elevated levels of lead are directly correlated with elevated levels of aggression, mental fog and inability to focus. Depending on how you define "sick" you could say that Newark residents have been directly affected. Further, we consider the social anxiety and mistrust that has grown from this crisis as a sickness of the people. We have witnessed accounts of people justifiably fearing for their well-being as they do normally innocuous things like brushing their teeth and showering.
LZ: How much more sampling should be done to establish the magnitude of the Water Crisis?
SB: Every home in Newark should be tested, to keep residents and homeowners informed. Every physical body needs to be tested to protect people from further harm.
LZ: Any other comments?
SB: We ask that residents please document their experiences requesting assistance from the City during this crisis. If they are unable to get satisfactory results then they should contact the Newark Water Coalition, with their stories so that we can fill in the gaps.
By Dhiren Shah
NEWARK - With the City of Newark making national headlines over its lead water crisis, we conducted an interview with current State Senator and former Newark cop, Councilman, and Deputy Mayor Ron Rice to get his thoughts on the situation.
Dhiren Shah: Good afternoon Senator Rice. What is your take on the Newark Water Crisis?
Ron Rice: In 1982, I was with about 25 others on a committee who were arguing for infrastructure funding. Then we started having all these water problems and we’re hearing about Newark today. Newark is not like Michigan; it’s a little different situation. Tomorrow, we’ll probably hear about Perth Amboy if we don’t fix this stuff, or Garfield, or Paterson. We’ve got to get a group on this. We moved bills years ago to fix that, and Christie spent all the money and never cleaned it up. So, government has to be held responsible and accountable in some kind of way for making sure people are safe. That will cost money, because we’ve got to replace these pipes. This is ridiculous. This is getting beyond what’s expected from a country like this.
My greatest fear is that we still have other towns like East Orange. So far, it’s okay, but East Orange has a lot of houses. What we need to do is keep the focus on working with what Newark is going through right now, but I think other cities in New Jersey who are not having a problem right now better take a real good look and get some analysis on service lines in those cities. I had a service line put in for water pressure around 2013, and I think it cost about three or four thousand dollars. A lot of people don’t have that kind of money.
DS: The mayor announced they got a $75 million grant for 10 years. How much are they spending per house?
RR: It’s not enough. That was to help homeowners subsidize the project. To change the infrastructure and set the system up right, you’re talking hundreds of millions, federal.
DS: They got $1.2 million for filters and cartridges. Are 38,000 filters enough in your opinion?
RR: In my opinion, for now, yes only because of what I’m being told - based on what’s in the service area that the DEP and EPA is claiming is affected in the Pequannock service area. The other concern is why the filters aren’t working in some of those cases. To spend that kind of money (on filters) and to find they might not be working, we have to figure it out, because the same filters worked in Flint, which the EPA recommended to use because they do work.
Another problem is how long can you supply water bottles? You can’t get enough water to bathe with from a water bottle.
DS: What about the East Ward?
RR: I’m concerned about the East Ward. It’s in the Wanaque system and so far, the tests show that it’s okay. But you have a lot of old houses in the East Ward. Even though the water is okay, people better start replacing the service lines now, or plan to change them.
DS: Local Talk’s readers are wondering why should they trust Mayor Baraka?
RR: Because he can’t fix it by himself. They should believe he’ll fix it because the federal government is involved, the EPA, the DEP. This problem was long before (Baraka). I was on council in 1982, we didn’t have the lead problem, but we had watershed problems, with Bontempo and those guys. When Sharpe James was the mayor, he tried to optimize the water system, rather than sell it, because it doesn’t make sense to sell 35,000 acres of watershed land. That way, he could take the watershed, which was free of debt, and use those resources to upgrade and fix the Newark water stuff. Cory (Booker) came and took him to court on that, and it never happened. Cory became the mayor and took over the watershed, and we’ve had issues with infrastructure for a long time. It’s been a long, ongoing thing. Now whoever is in office at the time is going to get the blame.
DS: Mayor Baraka said the water was safe, but the reports now say it is not. Why hasn’t Baraka apologized to the people of Newark?
RR: I can’t speak for the mayor, but what I do know is that you rely on information you get and make determinations when you share that information based on other investigations. I was trying to speak on the overall problem, what we have to do now, and what we need to do moving forward, and some of the history of it, even before the mayor got there. Other cities need to look at how to replace service lines.
DS: I agree that the job needs to be done correctly. With that said, how can the citizens of Newark have faith in the people appointed to fix the water problems, as there is a belief they were hired solely because of family and/or friend connections, instead of being qualified?
RR: Unfortunately, I cannot know for sure because I’m not Deputy Mayor or on the Council right now. A lot of things happen in Newark I’m not aware of because of communications. I don’t know these employees personally, particularly those dealing with the water. I do know you need competent people in those areas.
DS: Thank you for your time in this interview.
NEWARK - Initial test results on Aug. 9, have shown that a small sample of water filters provided to the City of Newark may not be removing lead to the low levels expected by city, state and federal officials.
At this time, the City is aware of only two residences where water filters are not working as expected. Out of an abundance of caution, the City is notifying residents that three filters may not be working as expected as it continues to test filters and filtered water to assess why the water filters in those two homes were not working as expected.
Until this additional testing is completed, residents in the Pequannock area who have lead services lines are advised to run their water for five minutes before filtering for maximum protection. Initial testing results show that filters are effective in locations that ran their water. The City strongly encourages residents to run their water - which includes showering, flushing toilets and washing dishes - in order to help coat the pipes and allow the new corrosion control treatment to continue optimizing.
“If you live in the Pequannock area, have lead service lines and received a filter, the City of Newark encourages you to take one small step to ensure your filter is working effectively. Before drinking from your tap water, run the water for five minutes before filtering to maximize your filter’s effectiveness,” said Kareem Adeem, Acting Director of the Newark Department of Water & Sewer Utilities. “We encourage residents to take advantage of all the important resources the City of Newark is offering, including free blood testing for children under 6, free water testing and our Lead Service Line Replacement Program.”
Further decisions will be made about the best course of action as soon as the City receives additional testing results back.
“As part of its comprehensive efforts to help protect the people of Newark from lead in its drinking water, EPA has been working in partnership with the City of Newark and the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection to assess Newark’s new lead corrosion control treatment effectiveness,” the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) said in a statement.
“As part of this effort, EPA recently sampled and tested the water in a few locations in Newark to see if the corrosion control system is dropping the elevated lead levels that present a threat to public health. Through this recent testing, EPA discovered that the household lead filters provided to local residents of Newark by the city may not be performing as expected. Filter effectiveness is dependent on operator use, water chemistry and the level of the contaminants (e.g. lead). EPA is working diligently with the state and city to understand the cause of the levels of lead being detected after filter use.
“EPA believes that, out of an abundance of caution, residents should be advised to use bottled water for drinking and cooking until the results of the filter testing are fully understood, additional sampling is performed, and a reliable solution can be implemented. EPA has asked the city and state to immediately develop a plan to provide alternative sources of water to its residents in need and to provide guidance regarding flushing lead service drinking water lines before consumption and use. EPA will also work with the city and state to assess alternate filtration options and provide enhanced education and awareness regarding the proper use of filters.”
As has been previously reported, water testing in Newark indicated elevated levels of lead in single and multi-family homes with decades-old lead service lines or plumbing containing lead. It is the last stretch of lead service lines, on private property between the street and approximately 15,000 homes, that is changing the makeup of the water.
“Access to safe drinking water is critically important to our administrations and we take health risks associated with lead in drinking water very seriously. Recent testing by the City of Newark of water samples taken from three Newark homes, using City-issued water filters, found elevated lead levels in filtered water in two of the homes,” New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy and Newark Mayor Ras Baraka said in a joint statement.
“In coordination with the City of Newark, Mayor Baraka and I are prepared to do everything the City needs, including making bottled water available to local residents. The City of Newark is currently expanding testing of filtered drinking water to more Newark homes and, in coordination with the Department of Environmental Protection, is actively working with the filter manufacturer to determine the scope of the situation and identify required corrective action as soon as possible.”
“As we carefully evaluate our options and the data available to us, it is important to understand that the City and State will need support and assistance from the federal government if bottled water is to be provided and distributed to impacted residents.
“It is also important to understand that long-term distribution of bottled water has potential to impact the City’s new corrosion control treatment that was launched in May. Experts expect to see a reduction of lead levels by the end of this year after the corrosion control optimizes. As part of the City's initial filter testing, the engineers saw positive signs that the orthophosphate is in the distribution system, and we are optimistic that the orthophosphate will eventually provide the protective coating necessary to prevent leaching from lead pipes. But to continue these trends, residents must continue to keep city water flowing through their pipes because this is necessary to move the orthophosphate through the system and form a protective coating around the inner lining of the pipes.”
There are additional steps residents can take to reduce the risks of lead in water:
· Use filtered cold water or bottled water for cooking and preparing baby formula, as well as for consumption by pregnant women. The New Jersey Department of Health recommends that bottled water be used for infants who are being fed with formula and children under 6 years old until families who have lead service lines and plumbing that contains lead receive lead-safe water filters. It is important for residents to remember to replace their cartridge every three months or when the indicator light comes on. The City of Newark is distributing lead-safe water filters and cartridges to impacted homeowners, free-of-charge.
· Do not boil water to remove lead. Boiling water will not reduce lead.
· Look for alternative drinking water sources or bottled water. You may want to consider purchasing bottled water or picking up a free lead-safe water filter and replacement cartridges at any of the seven locations listed at www.NewarkLeadServiceLine.com.
· Test your water for lead at no cost. Call the Department of Water and Sewer Utilities at (973) 773-6303 to find out how to get your water tested for lead.
· Get your child’s blood tested. Contact the Department of Health and Community Wellness at (973) 733-5323 or your healthcare provider to find out how you can get your child tested for lead if you are concerned about lead exposure.
· Identify and replace plumbing fixtures and lead services lines containing lead. Register online to replace your residential lead service lines at https://www.NewarkLeadServiceLine.com/Register. Replacement costs will not exceed $1,000, pending available funding.
Residents in the affected service area with lead services lines who have received filters can pick up water at the following locations (proof of residency may be required):
· The City of Newark Department of Health and Wellness - 110 William Street
· Bo Porter Sports Complex - 378 Lyons Avenue
· Boylan Street Recreation Center - 916 South Orange Avenue
· Vince Lombardi Center - 201 Bloomfield Avenue
The City began distributing bottled water to residents in the affected area
Aug. 12. However, reports surfaced that residents were not being able to get timely access to the water, with reports of being told to come back later on multiple occasions.
On Aug. 13, it was discovered that the water being distributed was well beyond its “Best By” date of May 2019. Water distribution was halted, leaving many residents who came to distribution centers without answers for hours.
Residents of Newark have been outraged as to having to pay for water services that are not safe for use. With established rhetoric saying that the water was safe, but with facts and actions that have shown otherwise, many in Newark are now asking Baraka to step down.
“It is time to come out Newark! August 15th in District Court....Stand up for your children, your parents, your family & friends whom have all been deceived and told to drink and cook with contaminated water for three years,” said citizen Munirah Bomani.
“Mayor Ras Baraka has POISONED YOU and he MUST bow out and RESIGN since he is NOT CAPABLE of protecting the people that elected him into office! His actions are unforgivable! Fear him not for the Almighty God has put this note to you into my heart to say OUT LOUD! Mayor Ras Baraka RESIGN!”
For more information on reducing lead exposure around your home/building and the health effects of lead, visit the EPA’s website at www.epa.gov/lead or contact your health care provider.
By Walter Elliott
NEWARK - How various stakeholders view the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's latest report on the Newark Water and Sewer Utilities lead content may be likened to how one views a half-glass of water.
The EPA report, which covers monitoring of and recording from 356 sites along Newark's water distribution system Jan. 1-June 30, showed levels of up to 52 parts per billion gallons.
That sampling includes customers served by NWS's Pequannock and Wanaque distribution mains among the city's five wards. The 270,000 city residents make up the bulk of Newark's 390,000 customers; the rest including clients in Bloomfield, Belleville, Nutley and, to a limited extent, South Orange and East Orange.
The federal agency has long set an "actionable" standard of 15 parts of lead per billion gallons for drinking water suppliers to take corrective measures. The EPA has not set a "safe" standard for lead in the water. Advocacy groups like the Natural Resources Defense Council have been calling on it to lower the actionable level to 5 ppb.
Lead - whether ingested in water, in water or in paint chips - makes its way into the bloodstream. Lead in the blood can affect the brain's learning functions, particularly of children.
The 52 ppb recording compares to the 48 ppb reading made from 246 sampling sites July 1-Dec. 31, 2018 and 18 ppb recorded Jan. 1-June 30, 2018. The sampling and monitoring have been conducted by NWS-hired CDM Smith of Edison.
Groups like the NRDC, Sierra Club-New Jersey Chapter and the Newark Water Coalition views the latest findings as part of the glass being half-empty. They place the latest findings in context of Newark registering above 15 ppb the last five semiannual testing periods.
"The latest tests of Newark's water raises a big alarm bell showing larger amounts of lead than ever before," said N.J. Sierra Club director Jeff Tittel July 9. "Our concern is that this will get worse before it gets better; warmer weather and more rain will bring more pollution in the water and that causes more lead to leach from the pipes. The Poland Spring and Brita filter solution can't work - we need a long-term fix and the money to do it."
Tittel's Brita filter remark is in reference to the city's free distribution of PUR faucet filters and pitchers to residents. Acting NWS Director Kareem Adeem, on July 8, said that 38,000 of the 40,000 units it bought from PUR has been distributed since October. That distribution was done either by residents picking up the devices from designated city offices or by NWS employees spending 27,000 hours going door-to-door.
Bloomfield, Belleville and Nutley have also since launched free faucet water filter distribution campaigns for its NWS-served residents.
That distribution was done among those NWS customers served by its Wanaque system or roughly the city's eastern half. Lead had been later detected in the Pequannock system distribution lines, mainly due to the failing effectiveness of sodium silicate added at the Pequannock Reservoir.
Newark, last spring, constructed a Pequannock treatment facility that has since induced orthophosphate as its new anti-corrosion additive since May 7. The city also began a 10-year, $75 million Lead Service Line Replacement Program with some 15,000 mostly residential customers.
The city was first alerted to above-actionable lead in water levels by way of the Newark Public School District in March 2016.
NPS discovered 15 ppb-plus readings from pipes, fittings and faucets in a majority of its 70 schools and support buildings. Aging school infrastructure and seasonal/sporadic use of some faucets were blamed for the high readings. Most of that infrastructure has been long since replaced.
NPS' flushing and replacement campaign presaged the city's above-actionable readings skid since Jan 1., 2017.
Adeem and Mayor Ras Baraka have been leading a choir who sees the EPA's July 7 report as the glass being half-full. The City of Newark's July 8 press release started with a headline calling the lead levels "slight increases."
"When we announced new upgrades to the Pequannock's corrosion control system in May, we wanted residents to understand that reported lead levels could rise in the short term - but that ultimately our engineers at CDM Smith expect them to drop in the months ahead," said Adeem. "That’s because that it takes time for the orthophosphate to optimize and recoat the inner lining of Lead Service Lines to reduce corrosion."
Attorneys from the city, NRDC and co-plaintiff Newark Education Workers' Caucus have been meanwhile meeting with former U.S. Chief Judge Jose L. Linares here in a Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Federal Court House and Justice Complex since July 9.
U.S. Judge Esther Salas had ordered all parties in NRDC, NEW Caucus v. City of Newark and the N.J. Department of Environmental Protection that Monday to enter mediation. Salas then named Linares, who headed the New Jersey District's judges, as mediator.
NRDC and NEW Caucus had sued Newark and the DEP commissioner, claiming that city and state officials had violated the EPA's Lead and Copper Rule - therefore allowing lead levels to rise. The plaintiffs had sought an injunction to have all residents, not just Wanaque system customers, receive filters - and all residents receive bottled water.
The Newark Water Coalition has invited Flint, Mich. pediatrician Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha to speak at St. Stephen's Church, 7 Wilson Ave., 6:30-8:30 p.m. July 17. Hanna-Attisha is to recount her part in turning Flint's lead-in-water crisis around.
By Walter Elliott
NEWARK - The Newark Water Supply has been receiving mixed news so far this month in its efforts to improve water quality.
NWS, as part of Newark's Department of Water and Sewer Utilities, is anticipating good news in form of a consultant's report on lead content levels among its East Ward customers. A draft of that report became public here Feb. 1.
Nutley Township, on Feb. 12, however, became the third of NWS's customer towns to find elevated haloacetic acid readings in its latest round of tests.
Newark is entering its third year of trying to lower what the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency calls "actionable levels" on lead and haloacetic acids.
NWS's respective Pequannock and Wanaque systems serve some 300,000 customers - both New Jersey's largest city plus 12 municipal customers. Those customers using eight million gallons daily include Nutley, Belleville, Bloomfield and, to a lesser degree, South Orange and the East Orange Water Commission in the "Local Talk" territory.
Nutley, on Lincoln's Birthday, released the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection's latest water quality test results. The DEP, testing on behalf of the township, found eight places along Newark-fed mains in Nutley that were above the EPA's actionable levels for haloacetic acids.
A municipality and water supplier, by law, has to notify its customers whenever the haloacetic acid content exceeds 60 parts per billion. That notice warns pregnant women and people with compromised immune systems of an increased risk of cancer may develop after consuming water with such a high level for "many years."
Haloacetic acids are formed when biological matter, like algae and fallen leaves, mix with disinfectants used to eliminate bacteria.
Nutley's readings sound familiar to its neighbors in Bloomfield and Belleville. Both townships, after registering more than 60ppb the last few months, resorted to dispensing free household faucet filters to partially combat the problem.
Bloomfield has invested $10 million last year to install an interconnection and transfer pump under West Passaic Avenue. The pump and interconnection will allow that township the flexibility to switch from Newark to the North Jersey Water District Commission system.
Nutley Mayor/Public Works Commissioner Joseph Scarpelli, Jr. said that the readings affect 500 homes in the western part of town; the rest of Nutley's 7,500 homes are served by the Passaic Valley Water Commission.
Scarpelli has directed DPW workers to flush that area's fire hydrants daily to dilute the acid.
"Flushing isn't the cure-all," said Scarpelli, "because the problem is in the water itself. It's a problem that needs to be rectified."
"It (the readings) suggest that something’s going on in the source water," added Environmental Working Group advising scientist Olga Naidenko. The EWG is a Washington, D.C.-based ecology advocacy group.
Mayor Ras Baraka, among other Newark officials, said that they too are flushing water mains while building a new Pequannock water treatment plant. That plant is to go on-line between April and July.
Newark is also aggressively combating lead buildup with a $75 million, 10-year lead service line replacement program launched last fall. It has also been supplying free water filters or pitchers to some 20,000 customers served by its Pequannock system since last year.
The Pequannock and Wanaque's comparison and contrast came into focus again with a Feb. 1 draft report by its testing consultant, CDM Smith, of Edison, to U.S. District Judge Esther Salas. Salas is presiding on a case between the city and the Natural Resources Defense Council over how Newark has been handling its lead content crisis.
The 48-page preliminary report is based on CDM Smith's sampling of water in lead service lines between Newark's mains and the homes of customers in the East Ward. The East Ward is mainly served by NWS's Wanaque Treatment Plant with the rest served by Pequannock.
The draft's findings concluded that "water quality in the Wanaque Gradient doesn't appear to be affected enough to increase lead levels in (that) gradient enough to levels seen in the Pequannock Gradient or to levels triggering a lead (actionable level) exceedance."
That Wanaque's treatment plant uses orthophosphate, which prevents lead leaching into pipes and fixtures, is seen as a key difference in the East Ward's lead readings. Officials have been working to replace sodium silicate, put into the Pequannock system - which the EPA told Newark, in 2017, has become ineffective.
NDRC was suing the city in part to have free water filters distributed in the East Ward. The group was citing intermixing of Pequannock and Wanaque water at key interconnections and during emergencies for the filter expansion.
NWS, like all other systems, have to send customer notices whenever lead content readings exceeds the EPA's 15 ppb actionable threshold.
By Walter Elliott
NEWARK - So much for one Newark Water Supply reservoir system having a lead contamination problem over the other.
Attorneys representing the city at a Nov. 28 hearing here at U.S. Magistrate Judge Cathy Waldor presented documents that revealed that water from both the Pequannock and Wanaque reservoirs have been blended along the delivery system. The combined systems serve Newark's 270,000 residents plus customers in Bloomfield, Belleville, Nutley and, to a limited extent, East Orange in "Local Talk" territory.
City attorneys, among other records, presented a five page letter, dated Nov. 8, from the late Newark Water and Sewer Utilities Director Andrea Hall Adebowale to New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection Water System Engineering Supervisor Joseph J. Mattie.
"It's likely that a blending zone exists at the interface between the Wanaque and Pequannock service area," wrote Adebowale to Mattie. "The blending's likely a result of occasional opening of pressure regulating valves to allow the higher gradient water to supply Wanaque during emergency events such as water main breaks and fires. It's also possible that a gate was open at the time of sampling."
This "possible blending" was detected after the city reviewed its test results "from the present going back to July 2016." It was so determined after comparing "silica, orthophosphate and alkalinity values of the two water systems."
Adebowale and Mayor Ras Baraka, since Oct. 15, had cited lead leaching into its Pequannock-fed system for the water filter and pitcher distribution and lead service line replacement programs launched that day.
Those initiatives were made after two thirds of the latest round of city-wide water samples came back above the federal Environmental Protection Agency's "actionable" level of 15 parts per billion of lead per liter. Tester CDM Smith, of Edison, found most of the 18,000 LSLs tested were above the 15 ppb lead level.
"Newark has some of the best drinking water," said Baraka at an Oct. 12 City Hall press announcement with Adebowale and Health Director Dr. Mark Wade. "The problem is that our infrastructure isn't safe. The corrosion control being used hasn't been effective in various parts of the North Ward, parts of the South Ward, the West Ward and the Central Ward; the East Ward has been unaffected."
The EPA notified Newark last year that adding sodium silicate at Pequannock's treatment plant so it could line lead pipes since 1997 has become ineffective. Corrosion and lead buildup have ensued while Newark sought an alternative plan or method.
The Pequannock system, by itself, serves the West and Central wards plus parts of the North and South wards. The Wanaque system feeds the remainder.
"If evaluated separately from the Pequannock service area," said Adebowale, "the Wanaque Gradient would've been in (lead) compliance from 2002 to the first half of 2018, with 90th percentile values from 0.0 to 11.2 (ppb/L)."
Adebowale added, however, that state and federal testers have evaluated both water systems together. The Nov. 8 letter was part of Newark's correspondence to the DEP on corrosion control treatment.
Adebowale's letter to Mattie was most likely her last, having died Nov. 8.
Baraka promoted Deputy Director Kareem Adeem as Acting Director Nov. 28. "Local Talk" has seen Adeem, prior to his promotion, fielding questions in public meetings across Newark.
The letter, however, contradicts the Oct. 12 statement that the East Ward and parts of the North and South Wards - all served by Wanaque - need not worry about the actionable lead content in their water. Getting water filters or pitchers from the city and/or having their LSLs and internal plumbing were options and not a requirement.
"The conclusions that we have are saying that the Wanaque system isn't as affected as the Pequannock," said Baraka in a later interview. "The areas we're not sure about, we're telling them to continue business as usual. If you feel like you want to get tested, get tested. In the meantime, we're going to continue our overall study to make sure what we're saying is 100 percent accurate."
The Natural Resources Defense Council, in the wake of the Wanaque-Pequannock blending, may now be saying, "I told you so." The public interest group, who took Newark to court in June over water quality issues, had asked about elevated water readings from several East Ward testing sites.
"To hand wave and say there's no problem when there're numbers above the federal threshold," said NRDC spokesman Erik Olson Nov. 30, "and when they haven't taken a recent hard look at how the corrosion control's working, is inappropriate and deeply concerning."
The above letter was part of evidence for Judge Waldor to consider Nov. 28 in the Newark Education Workers Caucus v. City of Newark and NJDEP matter.
NEWCaucus took the city and DEP to court June 28, declaring that Newark had violated the EPA's Safe Water Drinking Act and its Lead and Copper Rule. Acting DEP Commissioner Catherine R. McCabe sought a protective order against the suit, saying that she was not compelled to provide expert testimony or a list of privileged documents.
Waldor, in her Nov. 30 written ruling, said that McCabe's providing a document log would not be "burdensome" to the agency and that the commissioner had filed to show good cause for the restraining order, "because she failed to even discuss the standard for obtaining one."
The judge therefore denied McCabe's restraining order motion and directed her to set a documentary discovery schedule with NEWCaucus.
Community monitor Donna Jackson has meanwhile noticed related signs placed by two of the newer restaurants off Newark's Broad and Market streets' Four Corners Dec. 3.
The notices at Mercato Tomato Pie and Novelty Burger & Bar, as posted by Jackson on her Facebook page, read: "All of the water used in this restaurant is filtered with an industrial grade filter to eliminate contaminates, including lead."
The adjacent Mercato and Novelty restaurants are on the 210 block of Market Street and are in the East Ward.
By Walter Elliott
NEWARK - City officials who are stewards of the city's water supply are now working to get rid of two contaminating substances on two fronts since Nov. 1.
Executives and technicians of Newark Water and Sewer Utilities are most likely at the Wanaque and Pequannock reservoirs' treatment and filtering facilities, while you are reading this, adjusting the chlorination levels. Disinfecting and flushing the system are included.
They are making the changes to combat haloacetic acids, also known as HAA5, which a recent round of state test samples found substantially higher than the allowed maximum. The effort is in response to the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection's Bureau of Safe Drinking Water issuing a notice of violation Nov. 1 to the state's largest city.
Eliminating HAA5 will improve the water quality of up to 500,000 of Newark water supply's customers, including the city's own 270,000 residents plus customers in the eight towns it serves. Those customer towns include Belleville, Bloomfield, Nutley and, to a lesser extent, East Orange and South Orange.
This campaign would potentially affect more people that the current Lead Service Line remediation project the utilities have been undertaking since Oct. 12.
The city, on one hand, has been giving out some 40,000 tap water faucet or water pitcher filters as an immediate response in its LSL replacement campaign.
The water and sewer utilities, with the assistance of Mayor Ras Baraka's administration and Municipal Council approval, is gearing up for a $60 million, eight-year effort to remove leaded or lead-contaminated water lines between the city's water mains and property owners' plumbing infrastructure.
An LSL replacement effort, on the other hand, is to affect some 30,000 people living in 18,406 addresses in the Central and West wards plus parts of the North and South wards.
The NJDEP bureau based its Nov. 1 violation notice based on the HAA5 readings it had made among 12 sampling sites among all five wards Oct. 3.
The state bureau is following a federal Environmental Protection Agency HAA5 maximum contaminant level of 60 parts per billion per liter.
Its Oct. 3 sampling, however, found nine of the 12 sampling sites exceeding that MCL:
- University Hospital, 16 Bergen St., in the Central Ward scored 81 ppb/L.
- The Senior House at 801 N. Sixth St., in the North Ward, registered 77 ppb/L.
- The John F. Kennedy School, 311 So. 10th St., West Ward, scored 76 ppb/L.
- 115 Clifton Ave., Central Ward, came in at 74 ppb/L.
- Essex County Parks Department Building, 115 Clifton Ave., Central Ward, tied at 74 pppb/L
- World of Liquor, Ivy Hill Plaza, 521 Irvington Ave., West Ward, also made 74 ppb/L
- RWJ Beth Israel Medical Center, 201 Lyons Ave., South Ward, drew 73 ppb/L
- Senior Citizens House, 545 Orange St., West Ward, had a 70 ppb/L reading
- Newark Health Department, 84 William St., Central Ward, had 62 ppb/L
(The LSL campaign, by contrast, has a 15 ppb/L "actionable" threshold for lead.)
HAA5 is a group of five possibly carcinogenic chemicals that are a byproduct of the water disinfection and chlorination process.
Newark Deputy Director of Water and Sewer Utilities Kareem Adeem, in a Nov. 2 published report said that Oct. 3's elevated HAA5 levels is attributed to "recent increases in organic material in source water and demands for higher chlorine dosages."
Adeem's statement meshes with Barack's statement at the recent "Men's Town Hall Meetings" on LSL that both Pequannock and Wanaque reservoirs are “open water sources.”
Open sources, as opposed to wells and aquifers, are more prone to external contaminants.
Adeem, who has usually accompanied the mayor on the town hall circuit, added that federal and state officials do not consider the elevated MCLs as constituting an "acute public health emergency."
Erik D. Olsen, of the Natural Resources Defense Council, countered that Newark has had to add more chlorine into the water to combat bacteria, like leaves falling onto the reservoirs. More chlorination, reasons the HRDC senior director, creates more HAA5.
"The answer is for the city to get its act together," concluded Olsen.
The NRDC had sued Newark and the DEP in State Superior Court-Newark over the lead content in older pipes and fixtures. Adeem, in one town hall meeting, said that the city and EPA had banned all use of lead piping and fixtures since 1986.
The NRDC, among other demands, is calling on superior court judges to have Newark distribute 10 cases of bottled water while replacing LSLs.
The City of Newark-NRDC legal confrontation has turned into a Newark-Flint, Mich. comparison and contrast in the media.
"Newark is not Flint," declared Baraka. "As in most cities, Newark's water is delivered in obsolete infrastructure - lead service lines which we don't own. Newark, like most cities with LSLs, must treat its waters so that the water prevents lead from corroding the pipes."
The EPA and DEP told Newark earlier this year that its adding sodium silicate as an anticorrosion liner, after 20 years, has lost its effectiveness.
Baraka's "not Flint" points include, "Public officials in Flint chose to switch to a different water source, to rely on a water treatment plant with known deficiencies and to discontinue corrosion control treatment."
Michigan state officials, indeed, switched Flint's water source as a cost-savings measure.
The mayor stressed that Newark is going above and beyond necessary with its LSL replacement program and filter distribution. "The city is complying with the law," he concluded.
"Newark has echoes of Flint," countered Olsen, on WNYC's "Brain Leher Show" Nov. 1. "You've got a situation where the city wasn't straight with people. When the water gets to peoples' taps, because the city's not properly treating it, lead leaches - just like in Flint."
Newark water supply's customers are meanwhile taking their own stock and are considering their own action.
Bloomfield, said Township Administrator Brain Watkins, has been traditionally buying pre-treated water from Newark.
He, Mayor Michael Venezia and the Township Council received a report on elevated HAA5 levels Aug. 15. All four samples came in at 72, 81, 83 and 87 ppb/L. The township is also in the midst of their own lead line replacement project.
"This mayor, this council, me and the engineers are very, very concerned," said Watkins Nov. 2. "We'd like to think that Newark's taking responsible action to correct the problem."
Watkins added that the township, as part of a $10 million infrastructure improvement program, is building a water pump station at the Getty gasoline station site on 227 East Passaic Ave. The pumping station, he said, will interconnect and draw from the North Jersey District Water Supply Commission's Wanaque main.
East Orange and South Orange said that they have limited their Newark water supply use since 2016.
The East Orange Water Commission spokeswoman said that its system only interconnects with Newark's supply as an emergency.
South Orange Village President Sheena Collum, on Nov. 1, said that her municipality has not used its Newark interconnection since 2016. The village has interconnected with New Jersey American Water's Livingston-East Hanover reservoir supply Jan. 1 after letting its service contract with the EOWC lapse.
Belleville, according to the DEP's Drinking Water Watch web page, has also exceeded 60 ppb/L seven times between Nov. 12, 2009 and Sept. 12. Essex Watch, on Nov. 5, asked why township officials are so far silent on the issue.
By Walter Elliott
NEWARK - "Water, water everywhere - but not a drop to drink," may well apply to some 40,000 Newark residents who learned that their water service lines feeding their 18,406 addresses since Oct. 11 have tested for higher than "actionable" lead content.
City officials, since Oct. 12, have been making available 40,000 free household faucet filters to affected residents from eight locations: the city's five recreation centers, City Hall, the Health Department and the Water and Sewers Facility.
Qualified recipients get a PUR household system with a MAXION filter, fitting washers and an instruction manual. Recipients also receive two sheets of paper, the first being a double-sided explanation of what prompted the city to take this measure.
The other sheet is a "Lead Service Line Replacement Form" for a landlord or home property owner to fill out. That form, to be returned to Newark's Water and Sewers Utilities, may qualify the said owner for lead service line replacement by the city - with a catch.
The catch is that owners who want the city to replace the lead service line can "contribute" $1,000 for timely replacement or have that work "deferred to a later phase." The $1,000, with no interest, can be paid over a 12-month period through the quarterly water bill.
That is about the concrete extent of the LSL program which the city is undertaking. The time length to replace the lead lines - which were installed between 1985 and the 1880s - will be at least a year, going by the "contribution" and "deferred" phases.
The cost, according to Newarkleadserviceline.com, is to run between $3,000-$7,000 per line. The city is pursuing "State funding" to keep the individual owner's "contribution" down to $1,000.
The City Council, responding to last June's lawsuit by the Natural Resources Defense Council, had approved in August a $75 million bond issue to replace the said lines. That replacement was to be done in 10 phases over the next eight years.
What brought Mayor Ras Baraka to call an 11 a.m. Friday press conference at City Hall on the matter was a New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection Lead and Copper Rule Compliance Study's latest results released a week earlier.
The study found most of the said 18,000 lines tested had at least 15 parts of lead per billion per liter of water.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency considers 15 ppb per liter as requiring action. One line sampled in June registered 185 ppb per liter - 12 times the acceptable level.
The DEP, in its latest study, the third conducted in the last 18 months, concluded that Newark's corrosion treatment plan to combat lead in water contest is not working. That plan, using sodium silicate since 1994, had been tested every two years by the DEP into 2017.
Baraka, in the City Hall B21 Press Conference Room Friday, was joined by two pyramids of PUR filter boxes.
"The drinking water is safe; Newark has some of the best drinking water," said Baraka. "The problem is that our infrastructure isn't safe. The corrosion control being used hasn't been effective in various parts of the North Ward, parts of the South Ward, the West Ward and the Central Ward; the East Ward has been unaffected."
Lead service lines, which transfer water from city owned mains to households' internal plumbing, are in the eye of this storm. So are copper service lines that use fittings containing lead in the solder and/or fittings.
Lead, as seen in the March 2016 Newark Public Schools water emergency, can build up in pipes and fittings depending on the lines' frequency of use. Water service lines are usually owned by the property owner.
The latest development comes while the city battles the NRDC over water lead content the last two years. The NRDC, on Sept. 5, asked a Superior Court judge to have Newark supply 10 cases of bottled water - at 24 half-liter bottles a case - delivered to families at risk.
The NRDC also called upon Newark Sept. 5 to provide filters to households where there are pregnant women and/or children six years old or under. Those groups are now under Friday's filter distribution program.
The following is a summary of steps to take during the filter distribution and service line replacement:
1.) Know if your address has an affected service line.
One can look at the newarkleadserviceline.com color map. Its blue-shared area - enveloping the East Ward and parts of the North, Central and South wards may not need the additional filter.
Housing built 1986 or later should not have lead pipes or fittings since that year's ban.
One can scratch the exposed, non-painted line leading from the water meter or use a magnet. Lead pipes will turn from a dull color to a shiny silver-like hue. Magnets will not stick to lead or copper lines.
One can also call the Newark Water Department to schedule a free test.
2.) Should your service line and/or fittings have lead;
A.) Get a filter.
Filters are available from Newark City Hall, 920 Broad St., the Health and Wellness Center at 110 William; The Water and Sewers Facility at 239 Central Ave; Boylan Recreation Center, 916 South Orange Ave; Hayes Park West Recreation, 179 Boyd, St; JFK Rec Center, 211 W. Kinney St.; Vince Lombardi Center of Hope, 201 Bloomfield Ave.; St. Peter's Rec Center, 378 Lyons Ave. Check website for special extended hours.
"Local Talk" sought and received a filter within three minutes of walking into the Water and Sewers Facility, a former Dodge dealership, Oct. 17. One is directed to an office where an employee checks one's address identification on a computer database. One gets a PUR filter box, the two-sided explanatory sheet and lead service line replacement form.
The employee told "Local Talk" that one can get a free MAXION replacement filter every three months for the next year. One can run cold water through the PUR filter - provided that one flips a switch on the unit. However, according to one “Local Talk” staff who installed a filter at a relative’s home, the directions indicated that running hot water through the filter would damage it.
B.) Consider the LSL Replacement Program.
Homeowners reading this may want to see if the $1,000 "contribution," paid without interest over the next four quarterly water bills. The program will not apply if you have already replaced the line by yourself.
Tenants are to forward the form to their landlord.
By Lev D. Zilbermints
NEWARK - Two environmental groups have filed a lawsuit against the City of Newark, its officials and the Commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP), alleging that the tap water in Newark is unsafe to drink due to high concentration of lead.
The lawsuit names the City of Newark; Newark Department of Water and Sewer Utilities; its Director, Andrea Hall Adebowale; Newark Mayor Ras Baraka; and Catherine McCabe, the Commissioner of New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection as defendants. Plaintiffs allege that the City of Newark, its officials and the NJDEP Commissioner have violated the Safe Drinking Water Act, a federal law that protects the public from harmful contamination in their drinking water.
The two environmental groups filing the lawsuit are the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) Inc., and the Newark Education Workers Caucus (NEW Caucus). NRDC, based in New York, was founded in 1970. It has more than 12,000 members who reside in New Jersey. Of these, 30 - plus are Newark residents. According to court documents, NRDC is an international, non-profit environmental organization. It engages in research, advocacy and litigation to protect public health and reduce the exposure of all communities to toxic substances.
Newark Education Workers Caucus (NEW Caucus), according to court documents, is an association of educators who teach in Newark public schools. Some members of NEW Caucus live in Newark. The mission of NEW Caucus, according to the lawsuit, is to unify Newark educators in support of social justice initiatives in Newark, both for educators as well as for their students and students' families.
At a press conference held at Paradise Baptist Church on June 26, both NEW Caucus and NRDC presented their case to the media and the public. Speakers noted that Newark failed to comply with Open Public Records Act (OPRA) requests regarding water contamination. Court records show that on April 24, 2018, NRDC and NEW Caucus served Newark a 60-day notice of intent to sue the city and the State of New Jersey for violating the Safe Drinking Water Act. At the same time, the city was sued in court for failing to comply with the New Jersey Open Public Records Act.
On June 22, 2018, the Superior Court of New Jersey in Newark ruled that Newark had violated OPRA by failing to comply with OPRA's statutory timelines and other provisions. The court ordered Newark and its city clerk, Kenneth Louis, to release records requested by the NRDC within 20 days, and to pay attorneys' fees and litigation costs.
Dangerous levels of contamination - Effects of lead on children and adults
According to the NRDC fact sheet, 10 percent of water samples collected by the city in 2017 showed lead levels above 26 parts per billion. Court papers state that the "lead action level", or critical point, is 15 parts per billion. Federal law states that the water system has to take additional steps to protect its customers against lead exposure.
The fact sheet goes on to say that "about 20 percent of the city's samples showed lead levels above the 15 parts per billion level - with some samples coming in at three, even nine times higher."
According to the NRDC, "Newark has had the greatest number of lead-poisoned children in New Jersey for years." Lead exposure has serious and irreversible health impacts such as fertility problems, nervous system damage, cognitive dysfunction, and other problems. The lawsuit states that poorer academic performance, Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder, developmental delays are effects of lead on young children. Pregnant women and children are especially vulnerable, NRDC said in its fact sheet. In adults, exposure to lead can cause nerve disorders, decreased kidney function, reproductive problems, gastrointestinal damage, muscle and joint pain, memory and concentration problems and high blood pressure.
NRDC urges residents to get their water tested by calling 973-733-6303 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Al Moussab, president of NEW Caucus, told Local Talk, "I think that the city administration needs to do more to ensure that residents have safe drinking water. One of the claims in the lawsuit is how they are sampling the water."
During the June 26 press conference held at Paradise Baptist Church in Newark, Moussab told the assembled press and public that his organization joined the lawsuit in order to force the city to provide lead free water to its residents.
"Access to safe water should be a basic right for everyone. However, for many working class people it is not. By joining this lawsuit, we hope to hold the city and state governments accountable for providing safe drinking water to every home and school in Newark,” Moussab said.
Chris Canik, a teacher at Central High School, said that boiling water does not remove lead. Instead, lead becomes more concentrated after boiling. The only way to remove lead is "specific filters that remove lead. Not all (Newark residents) can afford filters,” Canik said.
According to Canik, Central High School has filters installed at water sources.
Non-Compliance with Federal Law
According to the lawsuit filed by NRDC and NEW Caucus, in 2017-2018 the NJDEP issued two notices of non-compliance to Newark under the Lead and Copper Rule. Court records show that between July and December 2017, Newark again exceeded the 15 parts per billion federal action level for lead in drinking water. Since Jan. 1, 2018, over 10 percent of samples taken have exceeded the 15 parts per billion, and a sample from one Newark residence contained levels as high as 182 parts per billion, court papers stated.
The lawsuit states that "over the course of the last three six-month monitoring periods, Newark has obscured the severity of its lead problem by filling its 100-sample quota with sites that are less likely to show elevated lead levels. This ongoing dilution of sampling results with lower priority sites that are less likely to have elevated lead levels suggests that the City has routinely underestimated its lead levels and will continue to do so in the future."
In 2017, Newark had 131 Tier I polling sites within its sampling pool, court records show. Of these, samples were collected from only 40 sites. And during the second six-month monitoring period of 2017, Newark collected samples from 88 Tier I sites.
A map presented at the press conference showed that large parts of East and Central Ward in Newark had no sampling done. West Ward had the most problems with drinking water.
Newark Submits A Rebuttal of Statements in the Lawsuit
Andrea Adebowale, Newark Director of Water and Sewer Utilities, issued the following statement to the public and the press on June 26:
“The lawsuit filed by the Natural Resources Defense Council is based on the premise that Newark residents are exposed to dangerous levels of lead in the City’s drinking water. That charge is absolutely and outrageously false. The truth is that the water supplied by the city is pure, safe and fully complies with federal and state regulations. The NRDC has seriously mischaracterized the facts.
“They cite the high levels of lead found in the water in Newark schools. It has been incontrovertibly established that the lead in the schools’ water was introduced by pipes and fixtures within the schools and that there was no lead contamination introduced by water from the City’s mains. I am baffled as to why the NRDC makes the innuendo that the Newark water system was responsible for the problem in the schools.
“The City’s water is not contaminated with lead. The NRDC makes a false comparison with Flint, Michigan. Although the City received a violation for Lead Level Exceedance, we have been compliant with state and federal rules regarding dealing with such violations and have met all the required milestones. The City has sent out public notification and public education materials and will continue to do so.
“In Newark, the City owns the water mains, but doesn’t own the service lines that connect the water supply to homes. Any lead in the drinking water stems from the privately owned lead service lines, not the water we deliver. The service lines are the responsibility of homeowners. The City has obtained funding from the State and is already implementing a plan to help property owners replace all of the approximately 15,000 lead service lines in the city at an estimated cost of $60 million.
“Our sampling revealed that the water in some homes with lead service lines exceeded the action level. This is the result of the fact that some homes built before 1986 may contain lead service lines. The average for water samples taken from January to June of last year from these homes was 27 parts per billion.
“The City has launched the Lead Service Line Replacement Program. It is a 10-phase program with the first phase already in operation. In May, 3000 residents received letters asking if they want to participate in Phase One of the program. There is a nominal cost to the homeowner, 10% of replacement costs up to a maximum of $1,000. Additionally, the City is conducting a corrosion study and continued sampling.
“The City received several OPRA requests from NRDC, beginning in early Fall of 2017. They allege that the City and State are not complying. However, we were able to provide most of the information. Any information that we were unable to provide was never in our possession.
“Contrary to the allegations of the NRDC, Newark has conducted a corrosion control study in 1994 and consequently implemented a corrosion control program to minimize the leaching of lead from service lines. We sell water from our system to other municipalities, including Pequannock Township, Bloomfield, Nutley, Belleville, Elizabeth, and Wayne. If our source water was contaminated, we would not be allowed to sell our water to them.
“Unfortunately, when City took over operation of its Water Treatment Plant in June 2013 from the bankrupt Watershed Conservation and Development Corporation, very few records were turned over to us. Some of the information requested by NRDC about corrosion control was maintained by the previous operators and was not given to the City when we took over. NRDC has requested reports that we simply do not have. We advised them that at the time that we did not have the information. All information in our possession has either already been provided to NRDC or has been made available for review and inspection at City Hall, yet they sue us for documents that we simply do not have and have been unable to obtain.
“Contrary to the allegations of the NRDC, the City has conducted an extensive public information campaign to inform residents of the lead service line problem. We have sent mailings to property owners, held public meetings, broadcast public information announcements on our municipal cable channel, held telephone and Facebook live town halls, issued news releases, published and distributed brochures and created a website devoted to this issue. This is a continuing effort to inform property owners and residents.
“The Bottom line: Our water is safe. It is our goal to be transparent and keep our residents informed every step of the way. Again, we reiterate that Newark’s water meets all federal and state standards and that this issue is confined to a limited number of homes with lead service lines. We have completed an inventory of lead service lines and are providing free lead testing for any homeowner who suspects that their service line might be made of lead.”
Contact the City of Newark for more information on Newark lead service lines and how to replace them.