After Long Delay, Newark Says It Will Provide Water Filters to Some Residents for Lead Contamination

But the city’s drinking water crisis is far from over.
A drinking fountain at the Essex County Riverfront Park in the Ironbound neighborhood of Newark, New Jersey
Credit: Bryan Anselm for NRDC

But the city’s drinking water crisis is far from over.

After more than a year of delaying action to protect Newark residents from high levels of lead in their drinking water, the city’s officials announced plans to provide free water filters to those with lead service lines. The city’s promise is a “direct result of Newark’s citizens taking a stand to protect their health and the health of their community,” says Erik Olson, senior director of NRDC’s Health & Food program. “However, there is still a lot of work to be done.”

NRDC, alongside the Newark Education Workers Caucus, a group of public school educators, filed a lawsuit against city and state officials in June for violating the federal drinking water law. These and other community organizations have been alerting Newark to its problem of lead in drinking water for more than a year.

Despite these calls for action—and despite having some of the highest lead levels of any big city in the country—city officials have repeatedly denied the crisis and misled the public about the dangers of drinking unfiltered tap water. Even as recently as last month, the city told residents that its water was safe to drink, ignoring its own data that say otherwise. Newark has exceeded the federal action level for lead in drinking water in each of three consecutive six-month monitoring periods, with recorded levels as high as 250 parts per billion—more than 16 times the action level. Over the last 18 months, Newark did not adequately inform residents of the risks and the steps they can take to prevent exposure, as required by law.

Pregnant women and children are most at risk of lead exposure, as even low levels are associated with serious, irreversible damage to developing brains and nervous systems. Lead exposure is also linked to fertility issues, cardiovascular and kidney problems, cognitive dysfunction, and elevated blood pressure in otherwise healthy adults.

“Given Newark’s track record of delay, denial, and failure to properly inform the public of the threat from lead in Newark’s drinking water,” Olson says, “it is important that residents hold the city’s officials accountable to a legally enforceable timetable of action.”

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