What do a girls vocational school, a senior housing complex and a Newark water and sewer office all have in common? Elevated levels of the potential cancer-causing haloacetic acid in their drinking water — levels that violate federal environmental standards, as the city of Newark laid out in a letter to homeowners.
Newark Mayor Ras Baraka’s point of view is different.
“This is not an emergency situation. You would have to drink water at that level for like 50 years in order for it to have the kind of effect that it would have,” Baraka said.
What caused the unacceptable levels of haloacetic acid?
“Because what happens is organic matter, because the water is like a lake or reservoir, rganic matter gets in the water and it reacts with the disinfectant that we put in the water. So we can’t get rid of the disinfectant. We have to put the disinfectant in the water to kill germs and bacteria and other things, but what we have to do is flush organic material out. And we do that, and we’re going to continue to do that,” Baraka said.
“If you’re not running your system well, you can start having problems with these disinfectant byproducts they’re called,” said Erik Olson, senior director of the Health and Food Program for the Natural Resources Defense Council.
The National Resources Defense Council has sued Newark over elevated lead levels in drinking water, which the city blames on old pipes.
The mayor says the city has been very open about this latest issue with the Newark water supply. He says any comparison to Flint is absolutely dead wrong.
“Our corrosion control inhibitor stopped working. We didn’t purposefully take it out of the water. So to make a comparison is not only disingenuous, to me, it’s almost insulting,” Baraka said.
“Unfortunately, the city has not really been straight with their consumers until very recently,” Olson said.
Newark supplies water to a handful of its neighbors, including Bloomfield where the township administrator says cities are dealing with old water infrastructure systems that some administrations have neglected and those in office now have to make up for that neglect.
While Baraka insists Newark is addressing the elevated haloacetic acid levels in its water, critics advocate for a more aggressive approach.
“They need to modernize how they disinfect their water. They need to really take a hard look at the whole system. I understand that they’ve been making adjustments to their system for some time, but unfortunately they just don’t seem to have their act together and they’re not supplying water that meets all the EPA drinking water standards,” said Olson.
The mayor says the city’s water and sewer department has been doing a fine job and it doesn’t need the Natural Resources Defense Council to tell it what to do.