WASHINGTON (November 25, 2019) – The City of Newark’s report released last Friday about city-distributed water filters confirmed the accuracy of NRDC’s warnings to the city back in February 2019: that scores of residents are not being protected from elevated lead levels because water filters are not being properly installed and maintained.
While not highlighted in Newark’s announcement, test results show that at least 25% of faucet filters examined as part of recent testing were improperly installed or maintained; the majority of pitcher filters (16 out of 25 examined) were not properly installed or maintained. Since tens of thousands of households have been given filters, a 25% or higher misuse rate means that thousands of households mistakenly believe they are being protected by filters that may not be effectively protecting them from lead. Developmental harm to young children from lead exposure can occur in as little as a few months.
In addition, even for properly installed and maintained filters, proper flushing of drinking water (for 5 minutes or longer) is critical to maximize protection. While the City has now emphasized this, extensive door-to-door education is needed to ensure all residents fully understand the proper way to flush water. The good news is that properly installed and maintained filters generally do seem to be reducing lead levels in drinking water when flushed for five minutes before filtering. However, residents should also be aware that filters are not expected to reduce lead to safe levels in homes where lead levels in drinking water exceed 150 parts per billion.
Following their extensive on-the-ground, door-to-door study early this year, NRDC and the Newark Education Workers Caucus warned the City that scores of vulnerable residents – infants, small children, and pregnant women – have been left inadequately protected by the City’s filter program because of widespread misuse of the filters. NRDC and educators from NEW Caucus urged the City to go door-to-door to instruct all residents on the proper use of filters, but the request was rejected. Now, nine months later, Newark’s paid consultant, as well as state officials and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, have confirmed the accuracy of our warnings.
The following are reactions by NRDC and the Newark Education Workers (NEW) Caucus:
Yvette Jordan, a high school teacher and Newark resident, on behalf of the NEW Caucus noted,
“My main concern is that the City is not doing a good enough job to educate people about how to protect themselves from dangerously high levels of lead in their drinking water. I live in Newark and I haven’t seen or heard emphasized that the filters must be flushed for 5 minutes before reaching full effectiveness. Nor has enough been said that the filters must be in the ‘off’ position while flushing them. My conversations with a wide array of residents attest to that. I am glad to see the EPA was responsive to the State and City of Newark regarding the filter report. However, it is imperative that more aggressive education and action by the City, including door-to-door education and ongoing assistance to test for lead and to help people use and maintain filters effectively occurs immediately.”
Erik D. Olson, Senior Strategic Director of Health and Food at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) said,
“Newark keeps assuring the public that it is doing everything right to address its lead in drinking water crisis. But the test results released Friday tell a different story. They prove that the City’s failure to conduct robust public education about how to properly use and maintain water filters has led to continued exposure to dangerous levels of lead for many Newark residents. It’s heartbreaking that people who are using filters to protect their families did not get the assistance they needed to keep lead from contaminating their water and threatening their health and their children’s health.
“For nearly a year, NRDC and the NEW Caucus have been urging Newark to take filter education more seriously. They’ve utterly failed to do so, at great, and likely irreparable cost, especially for infants and children.”
The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) is an international nonprofit environmental organization with 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.