Ne­wark mayor de­fends ac­tions in city’s water cri­sis

The Trentonian (Trenton, NJ) - - NEWS - By David Porter

NE­WARK >> The mayor of New Jer­sey’s largest city de­nounced com­par­isons Thurs­day be­tween high lead lev­els af­fect­ing as many as 18,000 res­i­dences and the re­cent cri­sis in Flint, Michi­gan, as the city faces a long and costly cleanup and re­place­ment ef­fort.

Ne­wark Mayor Ras Baraka said his ad­min­is­tra­tion is tak­ing mul­ti­ple steps to ad­dress the high lev­els caused by ag­ing lead ser­vice lines that serve pri­vate res­i­dences, some of which are more than 100 years old.

Be­tween 15,000 and 18,000 homes are es­ti­mated to have the lead lines. Ne­wark has about 280,000 res­i­dents.

Ne­wark’s cur­rent plight dates back to a 2016 find­ing that lead had tainted water in city schools. Since then, the city has been found on three sep­a­rate oc­ca­sions to have el­e­vated lead lev­els in its res­i­den­tial water sup­ply.

Baraka said the city has com­plied with di­rec­tives from the state Depart­ment of En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion and the fed­eral En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency at each step and has taken ad­di­tional steps, in­clud­ing giv­ing out 20,000 free water fil­ters to res­i­dents this sum­mer.

The prob­lems drew ad­di­tional at­ten­tion in June when the Na­tional Re­sources De­fense Coun­cil and an as­so­ci­a­tion of city ed­u­ca­tors claimed in a fed­eral law­suit that the city hadn’t been ad­e­quately mon­i­tor­ing and test­ing a water sys­tem that con­tained what it termed “dan­ger­ously high” lead lev­els.

The pub­lic­ity gen­er­ated by the suit spurred com­par­isons to Flint, where water was found to have el­e­vated lead lev­els in 2014 and 2015 de­spite of­fi­cials’ in­sis­tence the water was safe.

Some state health of­fi­cials in Michi­gan have been charged crim­i­nally in con­nec­tion with an out­break of Le­gion­naires’ dis­ease in the Flint area that some ex­perts be­lieve re­sulted from poorly treated water.

Baraka called the com­par­isons “B.S.” and “a lie.”

“I know it sounds sexy and it’s some­thing you can put on the front page, but that’s not what hap­pened here,” he said Thurs­day. “In Flint they pur­posely did not put a cor­ro­sion con­trol in­hibitor in their water. Ours stopped work­ing. That’s a marked and clear dif­fer­ence.

“What they did was pur­pose­ful and de­lib­er­ate, to save money,” he added. “Our cor­ro­sion con­trol in­hibitor stopped work­ing; we found out it stopped work­ing and we did some­thing about it.”

Re­plac­ing the lead ser­vice lines is ex­pected to cost roughly $70 mil­lion and take sev­eral years, and is com­pli­cated by ques­tions over how much, if any­thing, res­i­dents should be forced to pay since the lines are the prop­erty of the home­own­ers. Baraka es­ti­mated the to­tal cost at roughly sev­eral thou­sand dol­lars per home.

That prospect wasn’t sit­ting well with home­owner Deb­o­rah Stokes, who called the water qual­ity in her home “dis­gust­ing,”

“We pay taxes here,” she said. “Why should we have to pay more? Bot­tom line, it’s not our fault the sys­tem rusted out.”

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