LAW & PUBLIC SAFETY

A judge will decide if Newark should provide bottled water to more residents

BY Michael Hill, Correspondent |

One expert in federal court on Thursday said Newark has some of the highest lead levels in its drinking water.

The Newark Education Workers Caucus and the Natural Resources Defense Council have sued the city and state once again in an effort to try and force the city to provide bottled water to customers of the Wanaque service area, or the eastern part of the city.

The EPA actionable level for lead is 15 parts per billion.

The two organizations say this year homes in the Wanaque district tested way above that number; one at 18 to 23 parts per billion, another at 56 parts per billion, and another at 246 parts per billion — about 16 times the federal actionable level.

Why? The education workers and the NRDC blame poor corrosion control at the Wanaque site.

The expert for the organizations testified that if the corrosion control system worked effectively you would not expect to see such elevated lead readings. He testified he also suspects water from the Pequannock reservoir has been blending with the Wanaque.

One remedy: the city should give Wanaque customers bottled water, and lots of it. The expert says two cases per week is woefully short of what households really need.

The city’s expert says the Wanaque’s lead levels have been dropping for weeks because the corrosion control system is working.

An attorney for the city asked him if the city’s system is well managed and he said, yes, and in fact it’s being well maintained. Is bottled water distribution necessary? No, he said.

The judge asked what accounts for the fluctuations in recent lead readings. The expert says the system has thousands of miles of pipes and thousands of tons of lead pipe and lead in the water is unavoidable, inescapable. He said bottled water is not lead free.

So how best for households to deal with the lead at the tap? The city’s expert says run the tap water for 15 to 30 seconds.

The expert for the two organizations testified that’s way short of what’s recommended. He urged customers to run the water for 5 minutes before consuming, and that depends on flow rates. If the water flows forcefully maybe two minutes will do, he says, but if it’s the opposite, then 5 minutes may not get the lead out.

The judge asked the organization’s expert if the water from the Wanaque is safe for washing dishes, brushing teeth, bathing and washing clothes? He said yes to all the scenarios.

The Flint, Michigan comparison came up several times during the hearing — the high readings, the lack of confidence in using the water for anything.

Attorneys for the organizations and Newark residents attending the hearing say it’s come to that in Newark, too, and that there seems to be big lack of confidence in the system.

On Friday all parties will be back in court for arguments and perhaps a ruling.