Newark Lead Levels Hit Record, Endangering Families

Newark Lead Levels Hit Record, Endangering Families

Lead levels in Newark’s water supply tested at 52 parts per billion between January 1 and June 30 of 2019. These are the highest levels ever recorded in Newark, an increase from 48 parts per billion during the last 6 months of 2018. Newark officials say orthophosphate corrosion control systems should begin to reduce the lead levels over the second half of 2019.

“The latest tests of Newark’s water are raising a big alarm bell showing larger amounts of lead than ever before. This is a public health crisis putting people at high risk. Children are particularly vulnerable to brain damage and permanent developmental problems from even small amounts of lead. Our concern is that this will get worse before it gets better. Warmer weather and more rain will bring more pollution into the water that causes even more lead to leach from the pipes,” said Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. “The Poland Spring and Brita filter solution cannot work. We need a long-term fix, and the money to do it.”

Newark has handed out free, lead-safe water filters to more than 37,000 residents. The city also offers free water testing. In March, begin a $75 million program to replace an estimated 15,000 residential lead service lines over 8 years.

“Children in Newark and other cities have more lead in their blood than those in Flint, Michigan. They can’t wait for solutions. Newark has started to replace residential service lines, but that will take 8 years for only 15,000 lines. Lead lateral lines also need to be replaced. Even a strong program to reduce lead takes time to work, and people will be impacted before that happens.  Many of our water systems go back to the Victorian era and even homes built in the ‘30s and ‘40s have pipes made with lead solder. Mitigation isn’t working, and it’s not going to work with lead continuing to leach from old lines,” said Tittel.  “We need a minimum of $8 billion statewide to upgrade our pipes. We cannot settle for smaller measures that do not do enough to reduce these dangerously high lead levels.”

Lead abatement funding from the state has suffered for years. Gov. Christie regularly used lead abatement money to fill budget gaps. Gov. Murphy has diverted money that could have gone toward fixing pipes in Newark to other sources. The result has put people in many communities at continuing higher risk of lead poisoning and illness from lead in their drinking water.

“Reducing the amount of lead in Newark’s water requires also requires reducing the pollution contaminating water and contributing to the corrosion of old lines. Stormwater runoff and algae make the water more acidic, which eats away at the pipes and causes more lead to leach. The acidity counteracts the effects of the orthophosphates Newark is using to recoat old lead service lines. Salt from overbrining roads during the winter also gets into the water and further corrodes the pipes,” said Tittel. “The latest readings showed lead levels of 52 parts per billion for the first 6 months of 2019 in Newark. Over the same period last year, the levels were 18 parts per billion. That is an alarming increase that threatens the people of Newark.”

Lead can cause a variety of illnesses, and is especially dangerous to children. Even small amounts of lead can cause permanent developmental problems in young children. Adults can suffer increased risk of high blood pressure and kidney damage from continued exposure to lead.

“Newark has a public health crisis. Even smaller amounts of lead can cause brain damage and learning disabilities, especially in children. Thousands of children are diagnosed with lead poisoning in New Jersey each year. Adults face health risks as well, including increased danger of high blood pressure and kidney damage,” said Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. “This is a systemic issue that needs to be dealt with comprehensively. We need to address the pollution and fix the old water infrastructure that are increasing lead in our water. We cannot continue to put children at such high risk from record levels of lead in their water.”

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