HEALTH

Newark wins water distribution case as donors hand out bottles citywide

BY Brenda Flanagan, Senior Correspondent |

Newark has won a court battle against environmental groups that had been trying to get the city give out bottled water to more residents amid an ongoing lead crisis.

On Friday, a federal judge denied a request from the National Resources Defense Council to require the city to extend its bottled water distribution program to pregnant women, nursing women and children under six who get their water from the Wanaque treatment plant.

The NRDC had argued elevated lead levels had been found flowing from taps in that section of the city.

“It is unfortunate that it took a lawsuit for the city of Newark to stop denying its drinking water was contaminated with lead,” said NRDC senior director for health and food, Erik Olson, adding they would “carry on the fight to ensure that every Newark citizen gets safe drinking water.”

Newark officials say Wanaque water isn’t compromised, but earlier this week, Mayor Ras Baraka welcomed everyone in the city to pick up water.

“Anybody who comes to any of our sites, we give them bottled water, anybody,” Baraka said Monday. “And then we go back and verify and talk to them and let them know if they have a lead service line or not. We give it to everybody and anybody.”

And as the city continues to distribute bottled water to residents, some donors are stepping up as well.

Drivers on Chancellor Avenue saw the “Free Water” sign and pulled into the Good Neighbor Baptist Church parking lot to line up for delivery. Longshoremen grabbed cases of bottled water and popped them into trunks and back seats. Newark urged its residents to use bottled water a couple weeks ago, after the city determined lead’s leaching from old service lines into drinking water and lead filters might not be working properly.

“Thank God for the free water because it takes a lot of water to cook,” said Newark resident Angelo Clark.

“Oh, it makes a big difference. It gives you a lot of peace of mind to know that you’re getting help with the situation, you’re not dealing with it by yourself,” said Newark resident Josh Holloway.

After the city and state called for help providing bottled water, organizations like the New York Shipping Association joined the International Longshoremen’s Association Local 1233 to step up. They’ve distributed four, 40-foot containers of bottled water in two days.

“We’ve been in the city for 80 years, our Local. This is our community. A lot of us were born here, have lived here for years. And there’s a crisis here. I’m 71 years old and I’ve been here since the riots, I’ve been here for other things, so this is another way of helping out our community,” said Herbert Hall, the union’s business agent.

The city set up four of its own bottled water distribution centers in the Pequannock service area, where the lead problem was first diagnosed. It’s working with Uber to provide discounted rides only to those four centers: four rides worth $20 each with the code NWK20. Uber says the discount works within city limits.

“What you do is you open your Uber app and you put in one of those predetermined locations. When you select that, you’ll be able to put in a code,” said Uber spokesperson Harry Hartfield. “It’s for $20 off that ride to that distribution center. And then when you get to that distribution center and pick up your water, you can then use that code again to go back.”

The city’s only advertising discounted Uber rides for residents living in the Pequannock area, but Newark spokespeople said Friday there are no location restrictions on the discounts.

More philanthropic efforts included Jets player Kelvin Beachum, who donated $10,000 worth of bottled water and loaded cases of it into an SUV for delivery to families in the South Ward. He practices in nearby Florham Park.

“For me, it’s realizing these are people of color who are here in Newark that are suffering with this crisis, and I’m down the street. I need to do something about it,” he said.

Beachum is working with United Way, which has already collected $200,000 to buy bottled water and will donate more. They say they’re happy to give water away to any resident.

“As long as pregnant moms are getting the water, as long as nursing moms are getting the water, as long as our young children are getting the water, that’s what is really, really important because that’s who it affects the most,” said Catherine Wilson, head of United Way of Essex and West Hudson.

“They need water. They can’t drink it. They can’t give their babies this water. In fact, they’ve even said, don’t let your pets drink the water. So that being said, this is the only other alternative as an immediate fix,” said Buddy Smith, secretary-treasurer of the International Longshoremen’s Association Local 1233.

The longshoremen aren’t asking people where they live. They’ll be handing out more bottled water for free next week.