Newark, New Jersey, was hitting the headlines for the high lead levels that are currently infiltrating its municipal water system. The situation has been compared to that of Flint, Michigan, and is pretty serious.
A year ago, the city handed out water filters to all residents for installation. This seemed to be a good solution – however, now, when tested again, the filters are not effectively stopping the lead from getting into household water – levels are above recommended safety margins.
Government officials have been handing out bottled water since Monday, August 12, 2019, and have declared that the filters may not be working as well as they should be.
National Public Radio reports:
“The distribution scene would have looked familiar to residents in Flint, Mich., who suffered from years of contaminated drinking water and subsisted on bottled water. And like Flint, Newark has a high poverty rate — about 28%, compared with the national rate of 12.3% in 2017, according to the Census Bureau.
About 15,000 homes in Newark had lead service lines that brought contaminated water to their residences, the city said in a statement. It advised residents to take precautions, including getting children’s blood tested for lead exposure.
The city will continue to test both the filters and filtered water.”
This is not a new problem for Newark, but it does require a new solution. The cost of fixing or replacing the damaged infrastructure causing the lead to enter the water system will be upwards of seventy million dollars.
The Christian Science Monitor reports that since the city officials announced to the public that their water contains lead in 2016 with the assurance that they did not have a Flint, Michigan situation, people in the community have asserted their rights to have clean and safe water through protests and lawsuits.
Community actions pushed the city to start digging up and replacing its lead pipes. Five years later, on September 1, 2021, the city has replaced almost all of its 20,000 lead service lines.
According to Erik Olson, an advocate for drinking water protection at the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) in Washington, what happened in Flint has awakened people to the problem.
It also caused Newark residents to talk openly about the issue, which led to a more understanding of environmental justice.
Though Newark has successfully solved its water problems, in the U.S., there are still tens of millions who get their water through lead pipes and ten million more drink water that does not meet state and federal safety standards.
Neglect of this problem from the federal government supposed to ensure clean drinking water for all Americans has disproportionately impacted communities of color.
It is usually the African Americans, Latino, and low-income communities who are twice as likely to be at the receiving end of unsafe and poor-quality drinking water than white communities. But this goes beyond lead pipes; communities of color are also subject to housing discrimination.
The Senate recently passed the U.S. 1 Trillion infrastructure bill and has set aside $15 billion to remove and replace all lead services lines.
Newark’s success did not come easily but came from five years of lobbying for clean drinking water.
The new Federal Infrastructure programs will assist U.S. communities in replacing lead pipes and service lines and is a welcome step in the right direction towards safe, clean drinking water.