Senate President Steve Sweeney appeared to be coming to the defense of Newark in the middle of another elevated levels of lead in the tap water crisis.
“The tragedy going on in Newark wasn’t because the administration didn’t follow through. They reported the problem. It was on their paperwork that they had lead. They put a plan in place and unfortunately the plan’s not working. So this isn’t a criticism of Newark by any means,” said Sweeney.
Sweeney says part of the immediate help needed goes beyond New Jersey’s resources.
“Listen, I think everyone is pitching in to try to help the city of Newark. One, the federal government has to help us with water. I don’t think any city or any state has the ability to provide the amount of water. I read where they said two cases of water a week is good enough for a family. That wouldn’t be good enough for mine,” Sweeney said.
The Senate president says in the middle of the crisis, he reached out to the mayor of Newark to offer his help.
“I offered him that if there’s anything that he thinks we can do to help him to let us know on behalf of his citizens. Because what we do know right now is they have a big problem,” said Sweeney. “He said he would get back to me. Look, he’s dealing with a crisis right now.”
Lawmakers say other parts of New Jersey aren’t far from a contaminated water crisis, one they plan to avert by strengthening New Jersey’s two-year-old Water Quality Accountability Act through hearings and gathering testimony from experts.
“This is a conversation that we hope to have about solutions, we’re not finger pointing,” said Sen. Troy Singleton.
The senators and advocates say many of the public water utilities are not complying with certifying the quality of their water. And it should never come to consumers not trusting or knowing about their tap water.
“Data technology is also important. So, for example, do you know if you have a lead service line. How would you find out? Do you know if your community is making progress on eliminating and replacing lead service lines? I don’t know this, but we all should be able to go online and easily find out,” said Chris Sturm, managing director of policy and water at New Jersey Future.
“We don’t want any more Newarks. I mean, Flint was a nightmare for Michigan. But as Chris said, this issue is popping up, all around the country this is happening,” Sweeney added.
The Sierra Club’s Jeff Tittel says piecemeal fixes have allowed Newark’s lead issues to linger from one generation to another.
“If the DEP was doing their job over the last 20 years we would not have this problem in Newark,” Tittel said.
Tittel says Newark’s water infrastructure issues require a Marshall Plan fix.