The city of Newark, New Jersey, has announced that it found lead in the municipal drinking water, and has advised residents to take steps to reduce their exposure to the heavy metal toxin.
The notice arrived months after a lawsuit filed by environmental and education groups in June claimed that tap water in many Newark locations contained “dangerously high levels of lead.” The lawsuit accused New Jersey state officials of breaking federal law by failing to treat the water so that lead would not flake or leach into it from the pipes, and of failing to inform the public about results of any water lead tests.
The New York Times reported this week that officials began a program of alerts and filter giveaways after a study showed that one of two plants servicing Newark’s 285,100 residents failed to implement protocols to prevent lead in pipes from leaching into the drinking water.
In a series of releases published in October, the city of Newark acknowledged that it had “found elevated levels of lead in drinking water in some homes/buildings,” and that it would provide water filters for “an interim period.” That release provided a call-in number where residents could ask about water lead tests and lead service line inspections that the city said it would do for free.
Those releases did not say how many homes tested above the federal standard.
In a brochure attached to the release, the city said that it was evaluating its corrosion control treatment. New recommendations that had been submitted in December last year were approved by the city in April. The city also noted that it would implement “optimum corrosion control measures” after the state had approved a plan for those, submitted on Oct. 15.
Lead is a neurotoxin, and no level of lead in the blood is safe, according to the CDC. Children are particularly vulnerable to lead poisoning, which has been linked to developmental delays and learning disabilities.
The June lawsuit, filed by the Newark Education Workers Caucus and the Natural Resources Defense Council, alleged that improper corrosion controls were among the contributors to high lead levels measured across the city.
The EPA’s Lead and Copper Rule requires municipalities to monitor the levels of both metals in drinking water and to check their corrosion control systems if more than 10% of water samples collected from homes contain more than 15 parts per billion of lead.
According to the NRDC and NEW Caucus lawsuit, 20% of samples collected in Newark in 2017 exceeded the federal action level, and that certain samples were “three and even nine times higher.”
The groups said the problem persisted this year, and that one sample collected in 2018 measured 182 parts per billion.
“Newark’s water is corrosive, causing lead pipes to release too much of this toxic chemical into the drinking water flowing to residents’ taps,” Claire Woods, an attorney with NRDC, said at the time.
“The elevated lead concentrations in Newark’s drinking water are likely contributing to Newark children’s blood lead levels,” Mona Hanna-Attisha, a pediatrician from Flint, Michigan, who helped draw attention to that city’s water crisis, said in a declaration included in the lawsuit.
She noted that Newark children had lead levels in their blood that were nearly twice as high as levels across the state. Even so, she warned these blood tests “likely significantly underestimate the contribution of lead burden from lead in water exposure.”