Newark, lead, water
Newark, NJ is facing a lead water crisis, and much like what happened in Flint, Michigan, officials are slow to act. (Photo: Ken Lund via Flickr)

Newark, NJ Has Higher Lead Levels in Its Water Than Flint at the Height of the Water Crisis

Newark, New Jersey — a city that is over 50% Black — has even more lead in its water than Flint, Michigan did at the height of its water crisis, according to the most recent Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) lead samples from June.

Flint’s water quality is improving. The most recent testing from 2018 has Flint’s water with 4 parts per billion of lead, down substantially from the 27 parts per billion the city saw during the crisis’ peak in 2015. Though no amount of lead in water is safe, the federal government regards 15 parts per billion and up as dangerous, according to Laura Pangallozzi, who wrote about the issue for NewsOne.

In her article, Pangallozzi said she has been studying the water in Newark for over 10 years, and said Newark’s water has had a lead problem for at least two years.

According to Pangallozzi, the Pequannock Facility is one of two water treatment plants in the area and is the source of the issue. It not only serves Newark, but other surrounding areas. The Newark Water Department serves nearly 300,000 people.

In April, the city began handing out water filters to some citizens after plans to replace the lead piping system stalled. The National Resource Defense Council sued Newark to force it into action.

Many of the cities reporting issues with lead in the water are in New England and the Middle Atlantic states, because the older homes there are more likely to have lead pipes, Pangallozzi said.

In May, Newark unrolled a plan to treat its water system with a chemical designed to stop corrosion in lead pipes, however, despite hopes, the levels have yet to drop. It takes about six months for the system to begin working.

Additionally, the nationwide problem is exacerbated by the fact that many cities grossly underreport levels of lead in water, which is against the law. A 2017 investigative report by the Government Accountability Office found 2% of American cities have a lead problem and that many do not report it to the EPA.

In the wake of the Flint crisis, many pointed out race and class as factors for the government’s slow response to the problem. Karen Weaver, the city’s mayor, told The Independent last year that she was not alone in believing the city’s demographics played a role in the inadequate handling of the situation.

Similarly, Newark is a majority minority city with a 28.3% poverty rate as of 2017.

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