Newark Residents Secure Protections from Lead in Drinking Water

The result of a citizen suit brought by NRDC and NEW Caucus, the proposed settlement would ensure a continued commitment by the City of Newark to protecting the public from the toxic heavy metal.

Water filters and lead testing kits being handed out to Newark community members by the Newark Water Coalition at St. Stephan’s Church in Newark, July 18, 2019

Demetrius Freeman for NRDC

In a victory for Newark, New Jersey, residents and public health, a proposed settlement was submitted to a federal court today that will ensure the City of Newark continues its ongoing progress in fixing the issue of lead contamination in its drinking water.

“Lead damages children’s brains, which is why our group of public school teachers brought this case to secure safe drinking water for families in Newark,” says Yvette Jordan, chair of the Newark Education (NEW) Caucus, a group of public school educators. “Thankfully, our actions worked. Newark has come a long way to provide a brighter future for its children, and this settlement will ensure the job is finished.”

NEW Caucus chair Yvette Jordan (center) with Newark West Ward resident Shakima Thomas (left) and Newark Water Coalition cofounder Sabre Bee (right) at a discussion about the Newark lead crisis at the New Jersey Institute of Technology, March 9, 2020

Demetrius Freeman for NRDC

The proposed agreement—the result of a citizen suit brought by the NEW Caucus and NRDC in 2018—requires Newark to continue its rapid lead pipe replacement at no direct cost to residents, free water testing, and other protective measures. Eligible homes will continue to receive free filters and replacement cartridges during the term of the agreement. Newark must also engage in extensive public education so that residents are informed of the importance of properly installing, using, and replacing filter cartridges in order to protect their health. The settlement will take effect after it is approved by the court.

Under the proposed agreement, Newark would replace all of the lead pipes it can identify after a diligent effort, a process it started in March 2019. “Newark’s aggressive lead service line replacement program could serve as a model for the nation once it is completed,” says Erik Olson, senior strategic director for health at NRDC.

Transparency remains central to the proposed agreement. The city will be required to provide critical public health information to its residents at www.newarkleadserviceline.com, as well as in other public forums like social media and town halls. In addition, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection will build a webpage to share important information on water and corrosion control testing in Newark.

Throughout, NRDC and NEW Caucus will also monitor the plan’s implementation and make information available at www.nrdc.org.

For years, lead levels in Newark’s drinking water were some of the highest in the nation. Thousands were exposed to the toxic heavy metal, leaving pregnant women and children most at risk. Even low lead levels are associated with serious and irreversible harm to developing brains and nervous systems, as well as fertility issues, cardiovascular and kidney problems, and cognitive dysfunction.

Newark has since taken considerable steps to remove the sources of contamination and protect its residents’ health, leading to an improvement in reported lead levels.

“NEW Caucus and other residents stood up to fight for safe drinking water in Newark, securing an extraordinary victory for generations of kids who will live healthier, better lives because they won’t be drinking leaded tap water,” Olson says.

Newark Drinking Water Crisis

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