Newark’s handing out emergency water. What you need to know about the city’s lead crisis.
Newark residents who have old lead pipes pumping water to their homes will be eligible for free bottled water starting Monday after recent testing results questioned the effectiveness of the 38,000 filters distributed by the city to address its ongoing lead problem.
On Sunday, Gov. Phil Murphy and Newark Mayor Ras Baraka announced eligible residents can pick up water at four locations beginning at 3 p.m. The action comes days after the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency urged the city to provide bottled water to affected residents and told officials it was “essential” to warn people not to rely on filters until more sampling was done.
New testing results revealed two of three homes using nationally-certified filters were not removing lead as expected. It’s unclear whether the problem is an anomaly with those two filters or reflective of a wider problem.
Who is eligible for bottled water?
Only residents serviced by the Pequannock water treatment plant who have lead service lines and received a free filter from the city can pick up bottled water. That’s about 14,000 households, city officials said Monday.
Lead service lines are garden-hose sized pipes that connect underground water mains to homes. Residents can check if their home has a lead service line with the city here or at the bottom of this article.
Newarkers received water from one of two treatment plants -- the Pequannock and Wanaque. The Pequannock plant services the South, Central and West wards and western portions of the North and South Wards. The Wanaque plant services the East Ward and slivers of the North and South Wards.
Only residents served in the Pequannock area can get bottled water, that’s the plant with treatment troubles creating widespread elevated lead levels in the tap water. While some homes in the Wanaque gradient have elevated lead levels, the corrosion control treatment is working appropriately.
How much water will residents receive?
Each household can receive two cases of water, with about 24 bottles in each case. That should last households a week. Residents must bring a proof of address.
For at least the time being, the state is funding the bottled water distribution.
Where can residents pick up water?
The following locations will distribute bottled water:
- Newark Department of Health and Wellness at 110 William St. open from 8:30-4:30 a.m.
- Bo Porter Sports Complex at 378 Lyons Ave. open from 11 a.m. - 7 p.m.
- Boylan Street Recreation Center at 916 South Orange Ave. open from 11 a.m. - 7 p.m.
- Vince Lombardi Center at 201 Bloomfield Ave. open from 11 a.m. - 7 p.m.
The centers will remain open through Friday. It’s not clear if the city will need to extend bottled water distribution past this week. City officials said Tuesday more bottled water was arriving and water distribution was suspended until 3 p.m.
Residents who are senior citizens or disabled and cannot come pick up water can call the city’s department of water and sewer at 973-733-6303so officials can arrange for drop-offs.
Why is this happening?
Newark officials on Saturday announced concerning sampling results that showed two of three homes tested still had elevated lead levels despite using filters. Until additional sampling is done and officials can figure out what the problem is, city, state and federal officials want to take precaution and distribute bottled water to affected residents.
The city has distributed 38,000 PUR water filters since October.
New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Catherine McCabe said she was surprised to learn that the two filters appeared not to work and said she had not heard of this happening elsewhere in the state.
What is the city saying?
Mayor Baraka said these results are preliminary and based on a very small sample size. He said more information is needed to determine the problem. Representatives for CDM Smith, a city consultant that conducted the testing, said the three homes were tested under “worst-case scenario” conditions, meaning the water was stagnant for five to 11 hours.
City officials are also urging residents to continue flushing the water -- even if they pick up bottled water. Flushing includes running the shower, flushing the toilet and letting the water run without the filter. Flushing will help ensure the city’s new corrosion control treatment flows through the distribution system.
Corrosion control treatment creates a coating inside old lead pipes to keep lead from dissolving into the water supply. The city’s new treatment technique began in May and will take six months to a year to be fully effective. Without enough water running through the distribution system, the pipes won’t be coated with the new chemicals.
So while distributing bottled water is a short-term solution, Baraka and Murphy are warning that long-term distribution of bottled water could affect the city’s corrosion control.
What about other towns that buy water from Newark?
The Pequannock plant is managed by Newark and services 500,000 customers in North Jersey, including Pequannock Township, Bloomfield and Belleville. All three have had lead exceedances. Other towns only purchase water from Newark in emergencies.
The EPA has not recommended bottled water for neighboring municipalities.
Bloomfield, which has also distributed the same water filters, announced on Sunday it would begin testing those filters. The township will first test filters at homes with high lead levels and then offer filter testing to any of the 3,000 residents who received filters. To sign up for testing call 973-680-4009.
The township is hosting a public forum Aug. 19 at 6 p.m. in the Civic Center at 84 Broad St. to address the lead issue.
What are these filters and how do they work?
The PUR water filters connect to your faucet and help remove lead from the water. You can run water regularly without using the filter to flush the system. Running hot water through the filter can ruin it. There is a switch on the filter that allows you to bypass the filter and use hot water straight from the tap.
PUR filters are are NSF-certified to remove up to 150 parts per billion of lead so that you can drink and cook with the tap water. While there is no safe level of lead, the federal limit is 15 parts per billion. PUR filters are used across the country to help eliminate contamination risks.
A light on the filter that is usually green will start turning yellow and then red if the cartridge canister needs to be changed. That will happen every three months or 100 gallons of water.
How can we get more information?
Newark officials are planning a telephone town hall and a virtual town hall to allow residents the opportunity to ask questions. The city issued two robo-calls on Sunday and plans another one Monday to inform residents of the locations of the bottled water distribution and who is eligible.
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