Newark Mayor Ras Baraka said lead in the city’s drinking water now complies with and is below the EPA acceptable level of 15 parts per billion.
“And that is a significant milestone for us in the city,” Baraka said.
The mayor said the lead level stand at 14.1 parts per billion and needs New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection review and approval.
Kareen Adeem, the water and sewer utilities director, said that’s the average lead level of 472 samples that come from 54 homes on the Wanaque treatment system and 118 on the Pequanock system — a total of 172 different homes that had elevated lead levels over the last three years.
Adeem says what’s significant about the results is where the city collected the water samples from for testing over the last six months.
“One hundred and seventy-two, all of them were lead service lines. So lines that don’t have lead, we don’t put them in our sampling pool,” he said.
What’s lead to the drop in lead levels? What the city says was one of the major issues all along: water treatment. Specifically the corrosion control inhibitor that had failed in 2017 and caused lead to leach from service lines that run from the street to private homes.
Last summer, the city told a federal judge it has begun in May to treat its water with a different chemical, orthophosphate, and that it would take time to see results. In the meantime, advisories had residents lining up to carry home bottled water and the city giving them water filters.
“We’re so happy that our numbers are below 15 parts per billion because we’ve been doing work. What does it say? It says that orthophosphate works,” Baraka said.
While Newark praises the progress it’s making on lead in its drinking water, critics were taking aim.
“I don’t trust it. I say that because it is very hard to trust an administration who will not even apologize for the wrong that was done from the beginning,” said clean water advocate Debra Salters.
The mayor urged caution about the progress the city reports it’s making.
“This is not our way of saying it is over,” Baraka said.
The Natural Resources Defense Council agrees. It’s representing Newark clean water advocates in a pending lawsuit against the city. They are accusing the city of failing to timely address the lead crisis. The Natural Resources Defense Council calls the new results promising, but says there are no safe levels of lead.
The water director says the city is on pace to finish next summer with replacing lead with copper lines from the street to people’s houses, thanks to a loan from Essex County.
“Eighteen thousand lead lines and you’re already at 12,700. This project would have taken 10 years,” said Essex County Executive Joe Divincenzo.
Congress is debating a $1 billion bill to fund lead line replacement across the country. One congressman says Newark is showing the nation how to get it done.