From [HERE] For nearly a year and a half, top officials in Newark denied that their water system had a widespread lead problem, despite ample evidence that the city was facing a public health crisis that had echoes of the one in Flint, Mich.
Even as the risk persisted in the spring, the officials in Newark, New Jersey’s most populous city, took few precautionary measures, instead declaring on their website, “NEWARK’S WATER IS ABSOLUTELY SAFE TO DRINK.”
But this month, facing results from a new study, the officials abruptly changed course, beginning an urgent giveaway of 40,000 water filters across the city of 285,000 people, targeting tens of thousands of residences.
The revelation that Newark is facing a potentially widening public health crisis over tap water has angered many residents and raised questions about whether the city’s negligence has placed young children at risk.
Officials were finally compelled to act after an engineering study commissioned by the city found that measures to prevent lead from leaching into drinking water were failing at one of Newark’s two treatment plants.
State officials are warning that children under 6 in homes with lead pipes served by the plant should not drink unfiltered tap water.
Concerns over lead in tap water have been heightened since the crisis in Flint, where dangerous levels of lead in improperly treated water led to criminal indictments against local and state officials and left residents relying on free bottled water. Like Flint, Newark has a large black population and a high poverty rate.
“The parallels to Flint are fairly clear: The city was denying a problem even though its own data was showing problems,” said Erik Olson, a top official at the Natural Resources Defense Council, which filed a lawsuit against Newark in the summer, accusing it of violating federal safe drinking water laws. “Newark is not as extreme as Flint but still a serious problem.”
But Newark’s mayor, Ras Baraka, has defended the city’s response even as the issue of lead in the water has attracted intense local media attention. “When you make a statement that the drinking water is not safe, it is yelling fire in a crowded room,” he told reporters at a recent news conference. “In fact, Newark has some of the best drinking water. The problem is that our infrastructure is not safe.”
Some residents are frustrated at how long it took the city to admit the problem. “I applaud the city for now, finally, acknowledging the issue, but they first denied it,” said Bishop Jethro C. James Jr., the senior pastor at Paradise Baptist Church. “The denial was an insult to the citizenry.”
Candice Grant, 25, an administrative assistant, did not even know there was a lead issue until she got an alert on her cellphone about the filter giveaway.
“Whoa, there’s lead in the water?” Ms. Grant remembered thinking.
Her mind flashed to her 7-month-old son, and she immediately called her husband. “I said, ‘Get more bottled water because we’re not giving the baby any more from the house.’”
No amount of lead exposure is known to be safe for children, whose mental and physical development can be impaired, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In adults, lead can increase risks of high blood pressure and kidney disease; it can cause complications, including miscarriage, for pregnant women.
In Newark, about a quarter of the more than 14,000 children under 6 who were tested in 2016 had measurable levels of lead in their blood, according to an analysis by Advocates for Children of New Jersey of the most recent publicly available state data.
“This suggests a pervasive problem throughout the city coming from a variety of sources, and water could easily be one of them,” said Peter Chen, policy counsel at A.C.N.J.