Sierra Club: Murphy Needs to Show Leadership on Lead


NEWARK, N.J. — Gov. Phil Murphy met Newark residents Wednesday afternoon and toured one of four bottled water distribution centers amid the city’s efforts to get drinkable water to those whose tap water has tested dangerously high for lead.

“Governor Murphy needs to not just take tours at water distribution centers in Newark, he needs to show leadership. He needs to meet with the people of Newark and work on a long term fix on their lead crisis. This is not just about helping Newark, this is about helping the entire state’s lead crisis. For over 30 years we keep hearing excuses from the city of Newark and the DEP while the situation keeps getting worse. We are in crisis like Flint and we need direct action,” said Jeff Tittel, Director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. “The PUR Solution is pure spin and not a solution, now they are relying on the Poland Spring solution and that won’t work either. A state of emergency should be declared, instead New Jersey is relying on the bottled water solution. The Murphy Administration would not tolerate this in places like Short Hills or Rumson, enough on the excuses.”

The city is working to dig up old lead service lines and they have introduced a new water treatment method to try and stop lead from leaching off the pipes.

“The scandal and failure of the Newark Watershed Corporation to protect and clean up the Pequannock Reservoir is a major problem. The water treatment plant should have been updated and now lead is leaching out. Newark was ordered to close their open air reservoirs and add buffer agents in 1992 and they are just starting to do it now. The failure to do so resulted in not being able to add orthophosphates to the water to prevent other chemicals that cause lead from leaching out of pipes,” said Tittel.

The EPA tested and found high levels of lead with filters in two residences in Newark. The agency strongly encouraged the city of Newark to take immediate action. DEP Commissioner McCabe responded to EPA that, “EPA has not offered any support in providing bottled water to the city or in distributing that bottled water. Given the concerns EPA has here, we hope that EPA will offer assistance promptly.”


“The lead crisis is a cumulation of decades of failure. It is intolerable. Instead of direct action, there is only finger pointing. McCabe’s finger pointing at the EPA leads us away from the real problem. It is New Jersey’s ability to address these concerns and problems raised. We have the delegated authority to implement the Clean Water Act and Safe Drinking Act from the EPA. New Jersey should be working with our Congressional Delegation to get more money just like the state itself has failed miserably to fund money to get lead out of our water,” said Tittel.

Many cities in New Jersey have serious lead problems in the their drinking water. 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. Lead has also been found in Paterson, Camden, and Morristown.

“We need the DEP to hold people accountable to fix our water systems. Newark is an example of the ongoing lead crisis we have in New Jersey. This is a public health emergency putting people at high risk. This is not just happening in Newark, we have incidences of lead happening across the state in areas like Paterson, Camden, Morristown, and in 30 towns in Bergen County.  Children are particularly vulnerable to brain damage and permanent developmental problems from even small amounts of lead. We need a minimum of $2.3 to 8 billion statewide to fix our lead problem. We cannot settle for smaller Poland Spring measures that do not do enough to reduce these dangerously high lead levels. We need to protect our most precious resource, which is our children,” said Jeff Tittel, Director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. 

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