NEWARK – A group of Newark public school educators and a national environmental group have asked a federal court to issue an emergency order to provide safe drinking water to Newark residents most at risk of exposure and most vulnerable to health effects from elevated lead levels in tap water. Newark’s water system has exceeded the federal lead action level in drinking water for more than 18 months, and the City’s current timeline for action will leave the water unsafe to drink for years to come.
“For the last year, Newark officials have been more focused on denying there’s a problem with lead-contaminated drinking water than pursuing solutions. We’re asking the court to order emergency action to ensure that residents who are most at risk have safe water while we take city and state officials to court for violating the federal drinking water law,” said Sara Imperiale, an attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). “The people of Newark deserve safe drinking water now,” added Imperiale.
The Newark Education Workers Caucus (NEW Caucus) and NRDC petitioned the District of New Jersey to require Newark to provide a safe, alternative water supply through bottled water or filters certified to remove lead to the most at-risk residents, specifically families with pregnant or nursing women and children under the age of six. The requested relief would also apply to homes where water samples have tested above 10 parts per billion, the World Health Organization guideline for lead in tap water, or homes with lead service lines or lead plumbing.
The groups have also asked the court to order the City to: (1) respond to all resident requests for home drinking water testing and provide results on an expedited and enforceable schedule; (2) engage in a public awareness campaign, including the establishment of a drinking water resource center; and (3) issue a press release to correct its past misleading statements that Newark’s water is safe to drink.
“I’m concerned about the health of my family, my students, and the children of Newark, who are drinking water contaminated with lead, which is unsafe at any level, especially for developing brains. The City continues to deny that there’s a problem, but the lead levels in my own water tested at 42.2 parts per billion, which is both alarming and a very big problem,” said Yvette Jordan, a public school teacher and member of NEW Caucus.
Newark’s water system has exceeded the federal action lead level for three consecutive six-month monitoring periods, with recent results as high as 250 parts per billion – more than 16 times the action level set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. These levels are some of the highest recently recorded by a large water system in the country.
Improperly treated water corrodes lead pipes and plumbing, causing the toxic metal to leach and flake into drinking water on its way to residents’ taps. Ultimately, the City of Newark is responsible for controlling the corrosion of lead pipes to limit the amount of lead delivered to residents’ faucets and taking other steps to protect its residents. The City’s failure to establish and maintain proper corrosion control is the basis of several of the claims in the lawsuit NEW Caucus and NRDC filed on June 26, 2018, alleging violations of the federal Safe Drinking Water Act by the City of Newark and state and city officials.
“It’s necessary to ask for emergency action today because the water in Newark is not safe and the government isn’t acting with any urgency to ensure that the water coming to our taps, the water our families and children rely on, is not contaminated with lead,” said Al Moussab, President of NEW Caucus and resident of Newark.
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The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) is an international nonprofit environmental organization witha more than 3 million members and online activists. Since 1970, our lawyers, scientists, and other environmental specialists have worked to protect the world's natural resources, public health, and the environment. NRDC has offices in New York City, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Bozeman, MT, and Beijing. Visit us at www.nrdc.org and follow us on Twitter @NRDC.