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Newark Offers Residents Bottled Water Following EPA Letter Over Lead Pipe Concerns

After a second round of testing found water samples wit elevated levels of lead in the public drinking water, federal environmental health officials are demanding Newark, New Jersey officials supply residents with bottled water until they can assure public tap water is safe for consumption.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a letter to New Jersey government officials on Friday, detailing the findings from samples collected from the Newark residence’s tap water, which the agency indicates is not safe for consumption due to the risk of lead poisoning, even after the city supplied tens of thousands of free water filters to residents.

Over the last several years, Newark officials were warned of elevated lead levels in drinking water. A New Jersey Department of Health report released in 2017 found at least 10% of addresses tested in Newark showed nearly twice the recommended lead levels based on guidelines set by the EPA.

Last fall, the city warned tap water customers they may be exposed to contaminated drinking water due to excessive levels of lead potentially leaching from old pipes throughout the city.

Officials first attempted to resolve the contamination by offering approximately 40,000 water filters across the city, which has a population of more than 285,000 residents. Criticism has surrounded the attempted “quick fix” solution, and has recently been discredited by the EPA, which indicated the devices are not properly cleansing the contaminated water to be safe for consumption.

In this latest letter, the EPA revealed that a second round of water sample tests showed levels of lead still exceed the 15 parts per billion standard. As a result, the EPA is instructing Newark officials to advise their residents to use bottled water for drinking and cooking, until further testing can be performed to assure the reliable efficacy of filtration devices.

The EPA also said the City of Newark is responsible for providing such bottled water to its residents as soon as possible, and requested a compliance response by August 12. EPA officials said the agency was prepared to take appropriate action under Section 1431{a) of the federal Safe Drinking Water Act to ensure protection of public health, should the state and city not promptly undertake these recommended actions.

On Sunday, New Jersey Governor Philip D. Murphy and Newark Mayor, Ras Baraka issued a joint statement to the EPA, indicating they would begin providing bottled water at four local centers starting on Monday, August 12.

Lead Poisoning Risk

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimate that 535,000 children ages 1-5, or about 2.6% of such children in the U.S., have levels of lead in their blood that place them at risk for adverse health effects. To come up with that number, the CDC analyzed data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey from the years 1999 to 2002, and 2007 through 2010.

Childhood lead poisoning is considered the most preventable environmental disease among young children. More than half a million children in the U.S, have lead blood levels above 5 micrograms per deciliter, the “level of concern” reference set by the CDC.It is known to increase the risk of nervous system injury, brain damage, seizures or convulsions, growth or mental retardation, coma and even death. Childhood lead poisoning is considered the most preventable environmental disease among young children.

The problems seen in Newark are similar to those faced by Flint, Michigan, where lead levels in drinking water led to a state of emergency.

Flint switched from the Detroit Water System to water from the Flint River in April 2014, and shortly after residents immediately began complaining about cloudy and foul-smelling water, and many reported developing skin lesions and rashes after exposure to the water.

The water source change, which was done in an attempt to save money by an unelected emergency manager appointed to Flint by former Michigan Governor Rick Snyder to put the city’s financial affairs in order, caused the town’s residents to be exposed to heightened levels of lead, causing an unknown amount of children to suffer permanent developmental damage. Studies are still ongoing to determine if there is a link between the water contamination and a deadly Legionnaires’ disease outbreak which sickened 87 people and killed at least 10 from June 2014 to October 2015.

Flint’s drinking water problems have still not been fully resolved.

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