Newark, New Jersey has higher levels of lead in its water than Flint, Michigan did at the height of its water crisis, according to the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) latest samples. This weekend, after months of slow and ineffective action, officials began a citywide effort to replace lead pipes throughout the city in a timely manner.
New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy and Newark Mayor Ras Baraka announced a new plan that will replace Newark’s lead service lines with copper in a fraction of the time it was originally scheduled to take — and for free.
Volunteers will be visiting around 18,000 homes across Newark to pass out drinkable water and help residents sign up to replace their lead service lines at no cost. The move comes as the city is implementing a $120 million Essex County program that will speed up the replacement of every remaining lead service line in Newark.
The project was initially estimated to take ten years, but with the new program, it will be complete in about three.
The bond from Essex County is strictly only permitted to be used for the pipe replacement program, and will be at no cost to homeowners.
Though the project will likely create jobs in the city, which has a 28.3% poverty rate and a 5.9% unemployment rate, another class issue comes into play in the implementation of the plan: Seventy percent of Newark residents are renters, but homeowners need to give their permission, according to CBS News. With landlords often being apathetic about their renters’ living conditions, getting a hold of them to grant permission could be a challenge.
“Newark is a city of renters and too often landlords either can’t be found or show a lack of interest in the is important health initiative,” Baraka said in the announcement.
Baraka said the government is trying to create a law or ordinance that would allow crews to replace pipes without owners’ permission.
“We are going to do this as swiftly as humanly possible. We are going to make sure that we are all on the same page and we get this done as aggressively as we can,” Baraka said.
The move also comes after the National Resource Defense Council sued Newark last year to force it into action. Since March, 770 service lines have been replaced. The city began giving out 30,000 water filters in March, but they recently proved ineffective, so they began handing out bottled water instead, according to CBS.
Newark’s water problems date back several decades with old and faulty infrastructure and no funds to replace it, according to CBS. Corrosion control chemicals introduced years ago are now ineffective.
As Murphy said in the announcement, Essex County is the most diverse county in New Jersey. Though Murphy praised the county’s diversity, cities with fewer wealthy and white residents — much like Flint, and now Newark — seem to experience slower government reactions to crises like these. Newark is over 50% Black.
Essex County freeholders are set to hold a meeting Sept. 10 to approve the bond. There will also be a vote to declare a health emergency in the city.