Ne­wark fights push for more bot­tled wa­ter

The Morning Call - - LOCAL/STATE/REGION - By David Porter

NE­WARK, N.J. – New Jersey’s largest city faced off in court Thurs­day against an en­vi­ron­men­tal group seek­ing to force of­fi­cials to ex­pand the dis­tri­bu­tion of bot­tled wa­ter to more res­i­dents fac­ing po­ten­tially high lead levels.

The ar­gu­ments in fed­eral court came days after the U.S. En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency or­dered Ne­wark to be­gin is­su­ing bot­tled wa­ter to res­i­dents served by the city’s largest wa­ter provider, the Pe­quan­nock Wa­ter Treat­ment Plant.

Tens of thou­sands of bot­tles were handed out be­gin­ning Mon­day at four lo­ca­tions around the city as angry res­i­dents de­manded an­swers.

The EPA’s or­der came after two of three house­holds in the Pe­quan­nock ser­vice area that had re­ceived fil­ters from the city still showed lead levels above 15 parts per bil­lion, the al­low­able thresh­old.

The Nat­u­ral Re­sources De­fense Coun­cil, which sued the city last year over high lead levels, is seek­ing an in­junc­tion to force the city to also pro­vide bot­tled wa­ter to some of about 30,000 house­holds served by a plant in Wanaque, north­west of the city.

An ex­pert tes­ti­fied Thurs­day that pro­vid­ing two cases of wa­ter per week for three months to qual­i­fy­ing house­holds — those with a preg­nant woman or young chil­dren or both — would cost about $300,000.

Among other tes­ti­mony in the day­long pro­ceed­ing, an ex­pert for the city told U.S. Dis­trict Judge Es­ther Salas that Ne­wark res­i­dents in the Wanaque ser­vice area weren’t in dan­ger and that the Wanaque sys­tem was demon­strat­ing “ef­fec­tive cor­ro­sion con­trol.”

In ad­di­tion, of roughly 240 sam­ples taken from the Wanaque-served homes, about two-thirds showed lead levels so low they couldn’t be ac­cu­rately mea­sured, Steven Reiber said. Lead levels in the Wanaque wa­ter “are low and go­ing lower,” he said.

That con­trasted with the pic­ture painted by at­tor­neys from the Na­tional Re­sources De­fense Coun­cil who noted that about 25 of the homes had tested above the EPA-man­dated thresh­old of 15 parts per bil­lion. Daniel Gi­ammar, an ex­pert called by NRDC, tes­ti­fied that one home in the ser­vice area tested at 246 parts per bil­lion last year.

The lead is leach­ing in from the pipes and is not orig­i­nat­ing from the source wa­ter.

Ne­wark has come un­der scru­tiny in the past year since the re­sources coun­cil sued and claimed the city dragged its feet after its cor­ro­sion con­trol sys­tem was found to be fail­ing in 2017 and down­played the sever­ity of the prob­lem when it no­ti­fied res­i­dents.

Since then, the city im­ple­mented a new sys­tem that in­tro­duces or­thophos­phate into the wa­ter that acts as a coat­ing on the in­side of lead ser­vice lines to re­duce leach­ing. It also dis­trib­uted nearly 40,000 fil­ters to res­i­dents and cre­ated a plan to re­place the 18,000 res­i­den­tial lead ser­vice lines in the city, ex­pected to take as long as a decade and cost mil­lions.

The city also closed off gates and valves where wa­ter from the two sys­tems was comin­gling; the re­sources coun­cil has said that blend­ing might have com­pro­mised the wa­ter com­ing from the Wanaque plant.

RICK LOOMIS/GETTY

Wa­ter is stacked in sev­eral rooms scat­tered around the Ne­wark Health Depart­ment, which is act­ing as a dis­tri­bu­tion point for fresh wa­ter for res­i­dents af­fected by the city’s on­go­ing wa­ter cri­sis due to lead con­tam­i­na­tion in some tap wa­ter.

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