Lead levels in Newark water have fallen below the federal benchmark for acceptable levels for the third straight reporting period as the City continues to abate traces of lead from its drinking water, Mayor Ras Baraka announced July 1.
New preliminary averages are below 7 parts per billion, more than 8 ppb below the federal EPA acceptable level of 15 ppb. These levels, confirmed by Edison-based engineering firm CDM Smith, put Newark in compliance with EPA standards for 18 straight months.
Newark first reported excess amounts of lead in its water in spring 2017, and in June 2018, the National Resources Defense Council and the Newark Education Workers Caucus filed a lawsuit against the city the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection for the ongoing problem.
In summer 2019, Newark’s lead-contaminated drinking water was front-page news for weeks after it was revealed that more than 100,000 residents may have been exposed to toxic levels of lead in their drinking water. State environmental regulators found that distributed lead filters were not getting the job done, and for weeks, residents lined up in the summer heat to get bottled water.
Since then, the city has replaced more than 20,352 lead service lines as it nears the completion of a project to replace old lead pipes.
“From the time we reported our first lead exceedances to the state regulatory agency and our community in the spring of 2017, there has been a concerted effort to rid the city of this problem,” Baraka said. “We are now viewed as a model city for lead abatement by national organizations, the media and our earliest critics.”
Under the December settlement agreement between the city and the NRDC and the NEWC, the legal action would come to an end June 30 if Newark’s lead levels remained below federal standards.
Other conditions of the settlement, including the massive lead line replacement project, distribution of filters and education on their use, and testing for lead in homes, were met before the settlement was signed.
“We have always maintained our water was safe at the source,” said Kareem Adeem, Newark’s Water and Sewer Utilities director, in a prepared statement. “The problem occurred when the corrosion control in one of the city’s two water systems faltered. As soon as we recognized the problem with the help of the EPA, we began a three-prong approach solution by handing out more than 40,000 filters to residents, introducing a new corrosion control system, and replacing every lead line in the city, which is the permanent remedy.”
The latest results were taken from homes where the lead lines had not yet been replaced, proving the corrosion control system is working, tamping down lead in fixtures and soldering in the home, Adeem said.
“It’s important that residents continue to have us test their water, so we can identify problems in the home,” he said.
Chris Sturm, the managing director of policy and water for New Jersey Future, stated the city’s “multi-million-dollar investment in its water infrastructure is an investment in its most important asset – its people, and especially its children.”
Full lead line replacement is expected to be completed later this year.