July 2, 2020


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The average lead levels in City water have fallen below 15 parts per billion, which is underneath the federal benchmark of acceptable levels, Mayor Ras J. Baraka and Water and Sewer Utilities Director Kareem Adeem announced today.

Newark’s latest testing results listed on Drinking WaterWatch show lead levels at 14.1 ppb, which is beneath the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s allowable trace lead presence, which Newark began to exceed in 2017 when the City’s lead service line anti-corrosion measures began to falter.

“This moment is what we’ve been working toward, a moment when we can say our water is in compliance with lead and copper rule, where the facts speak for themselves,” Mayor Baraka said. “These results prove the City of Newark is committed to delivering the purest water possible to our residents and the people of surrounding towns who consume our water. I’m very proud of the work done by our Administration, the Water and Sewer Department, and our scientists and technical consultant who studied the problem, found a solution, and put that solution into practice. Our county, state and federal government partners have also been very essential and supportive.”

The Mayor added the trace lower levels were “expected” when the City introduced a new corrosion treatment system last year.

“Of course, the long-term solution is the replacement of all City lead lines, and we are far ahead of schedule in that project, not losing much of a step through the global pandemic” Mayor Baraka added. “Once that is completed, we anticipate seeing numbers closer to zero.”

“Aging infrastructure and lead exposure in drinking water has plagued communities throughout the state and across the nation for decades,” said Governor Phil Murphy. “New Jersey must continue to move forward to remediate this issue and work collaboratively across all levels of government to remove the dangers of lead from our communities. I applaud Mayor Baraka and the City of Newark for their commitment to replacing thousands of lead service lines to ensure safe drinking water and modern infrastructure for their residents.”

Director Adeem said the new results were attainable because the community cooperated with the City by using water to help coat the lead pipes, allowing workers quick access to their homes for lead line replacement and showing “patience” through the process.

“It’s always important when we see progress to thank the residents,” Director Adeem said. “They have been patient, cooperative and worked with us to solve this situation as a community.”  

Last May, the City began introducing orthophosphate into the water system to control corrosion of lead service lines, which connect older, small buildings and homes to the City’s water mains. Large apartment houses, office buildings and institutions were not impacted, nor were buildings constructed after 1953, the year the City banned the use of lead in service lines.

“It takes a little time for the chemical to effectively coat the lead service lines,” said Director Adeem. “When we introduced the orthophosphate last May, we figured it would take about a year to bring our lead levels back into compliance. So, while we are very happy with the new results, we were fully confident the new corrosion control would work.”

Last December, water samples showed a 74 percent drop in lead levels to an average of 17.3 ppb after seven months of the new corrosion control.

“I knew then we were on our way,” Director Adeem said.

In the spring of 2016, Newark began to experience elevated lead levels in several schools, as one in eight samples showed exceedances above 15 ppb. Bottled water was brought in for drinking, and wider sampling showed only five percent of the exceedances were from drinking sources. City and state officials began investigating the cause and, in the spring of 2017, exceedances were noted in 10 of 100 samples taken from private homes. As with the schools, residents were notified of their exceedances through their water bills, City mailers and town hall meetings, and testing continued. The next several cycles of testing, and a lead-line biopsy by the EPA, showed the corrosion system from the Pequannock treatment plant, which serves less than half the City, had faltered.

Within days of that finding, the City began distributing 40,000 filters, which eventually proved 99 percent effective in reducing lead levels when flushed properly. The City continues to offer cartridge replacements for free and instructions on how to install and properly maintain the filters.  

“That was our short-term fix,” Mayor Baraka said. “But we knew the only permanent solution was replacing all 18,720 plus lead lines in the City.”

That work began last spring and an Essex County $120 million bond last fall allowed the City to accelerate the work. To date, close to 13,000 lines are completed and crews, who have worked steadily through the COVID-19 pandemic, are currently replacing about 75 per day.