There were few smiles in the room on the faces of the eight Department of Water and Sewer Utilities workers, as their faces bore expressions of intense concentration on the presentation before them, on an item that is small enough to fit in a good-size back pack, costs about $24 at Home Depot, and is changing the lives of thousands of Newark residents on a daily basis.
Three representatives of PUR, the Massachusetts-based water consumer water filtration products brand that is providing the City of Newark with the filters it is giving out for free to homeowners and tenants in every ward, were explaining how the filters are installed and operated to the city employees. The Water and Sewer Utilities employees are going into the community to both install the filters and teach residents to help others do the same.
The training was conducted in early October by three representatives of PUR in the Department of Water and Sewer Utilities’ building’s conference room at 269 Central Avenue. Both teams wore blue: collared blue shirts and jeans for the PUR trainers and blue uniforms with official patches for the city workers. The only real difference was that the city team also wore their yellow safety vests over their uniforms.
Paula Lopes, the PUR marketing director, led the session, but the other two members of the team, Nicole Stevens-Murphy and Meredith Jarvis, provided a great deal of the training, too, breaking out the actual filters in display kits, taking the workers through the installation and maintenance procedures.
The filters hook up directly to faucet spouts. They allow residents to filter as much as 100 gallons of water before their cartridges require replacement, and come in two types: faucet filtration systems that are placed directly on the faucet, and pitcher filtration systems, which are used when the faucet cannot be connected to the filter.
“The mineral clear filter will remove lead,” Ms. Lopes said. “The filters are attached to the faucet’s aerator, by twisting it into place. You can flow water with or without the filter.
“The first time you use the filter in the day, or when you come home at night, you should flush the water through the filter for five minutes before using it,” Ms. Lopes continued. “That helps flush out lead in the pipes that might have sat there for a long time.
“Above all, never run hot water through a lead filter,” she said. She also noted that boiling water does not remove lead from water, either. The filter comes with a switch, so a user can run water without the filter – including hot water.
The other type of filter is a pitcher, to be used for faucets whose aerator cannot connect to attachable filters. These devices resemble pitchers, with the actual filter inside of the pitcher structure. “You put the filter into the pitcher with a good twist and whack, to ensure that it’s a tight fit and doesn’t fall out,” Ms. Lopes said. “Then you run cold water through the drain before filling up the filter. Once that’s done, you can put it in the refrigerator and drink from it.”
The filters, however, do not have an unlimited life. They can handle about 100 gallons of water, which averages about three months. Both tell users when they’re done in similar ways: the filters attached to faucets have lights that turn red when the filter cartridge is exhausted, while the pitcher-style filters have three lights: green to say the filter is working, yellow that the cartridge is low, red that it’s time to replace the cartridge.
And there’s more – the aerators in filters and faucets – that little ring-like thing that holds a metal net – should be rinsed out before you put in the filter and periodically.
“We have to remind residents that they have to avoid using hot water in the filters and change the cartridges when the light turns red,” Ms. Lopes said.
She also told the workers to remind residents to clean the aerators on their faucets and the filters on their devices. “Lead particles can get trapped in these aerators and the O-rings in these devices,” she said. “make sure residents are diligent about cleaning them every two weeks.”
After the PUR team finished their presentation, they quizzed the Water and Sewer team about what they’d learned, and being professionals, they had the right answers.
Now, they started asking the right questions. Were these filters going to work? Yes, but Ms. Lopes stressed that residents should follow procedure to use them and flush out their pipes before doing so, particularly if they haven’t used their pipes for a large length of time.
Alric Jessamy, an inspector who has been with the Department for three years, and an electrician for 30, had some more probing questions for Ms. Lopes. What kind of testing and certification had been done on these filters? As an electrician, he knew the importance of having his equipment certified.
Ms. Lopes had the right answer: the filters are certified by the Water Quality Association and the federal Environmental Protection Administration.
What about the dates printed on the sides of the boxes the filters came in? Were they expiration dates? No, just the dates the filters were made. The filters had no expiration date, only the cartridges.
Ms. Lopes had an additional comment on the filters, the training, and her experience on working with Newark’s residents: “They’re very open. They’re super,” she said. “They like to see their options with the filters.”
Now the staff had a chance to handle the actual filters and look at demonstration versions of the filters, which were cut in half to show their features.
After doing so, Mr. Jessamy gave his assessment of the new filters. “They’re a great product,” said the London-born inspector, who grew up in Grenada in the West Indies. “They will alleviate the lead issue, especially the elderly, and people with kids.”
Mr. Jessamy has already gone into the communities he serves, to inspect lines and provide filters. “Most people are happy to see me and explain how they’re used and how quickly you can install them,” he said. “I’ve spoken to many people who understand what we’re doing and how we’ve taken the initiative,” he said.
A newer addition to the Water and Sewer Utilities Department, Laborer Shari Amenhotep, was also impressed with the filters. Despite being on the job for only two weeks, he was attentive during the training and took it seriously.
“I’ve been distributing water and senior citizens for the past two weeks in on-the-job training,” Mr. Amenhotep said. “Now I’m confident I’ll be able to install these filters and teach others to do so.” The 42-year-old South Ward native added that the training would make his work of installing these filters more effective, as he could do it properly. “In the short term, these filters will protect our residents until all the lead lines are replaced. The plan is going in the right direction.”
He also talked about his commitment to community service. Before joining the Water and Sewer Utilities Department, he was a member of the Mayor’s Street Academy and Street Team, working with youth at risk. “I’m excited to be here,” Mr. Amenhotep said. “We have a wonderful leader in Mayor Ras Baraka, and I want to help him in getting the job done.”