The city began distributing bottled water to residents based on unsafe levels of lead in the water—similar to the dangerous levels in the water crisis in Flint, Michigan.

By Kristi Pahr
Spencer Platt/Getty Images
A pallet of bottled water is delivered to a recreation center on August 13, 2019 in Newark, New Jersey. Residents of Newark, the largest city in New Jersey, are to receive free water after lead was found in the tap water. It was reported over the weekend that lead levels in some areas of the city were still not safe and the city has begun distributing bottled water for cooking and drinking.

Since October 2018, the City of Newark has handed out 38,000 water filters to residents to remove lead from drinking water. Sunday, city leaders announced that based on the results from testing performed on the drinking water from two homes, residents should discontinue use of the filters and use only bottled water for drinking or cooking. City officials are now distributing bottled water to residents throughout the city.

Exposure to lead has been linked to long-term, irreversible brain damage for children and developing fetuses. It's also been linked to delayed growth, kidney damage, and nerve damage.

In 2015, roughly 10 percent of the homes tested showed results of at least 27 parts per billion of lead in drinking water—surpassing the 15 parts per billion recommended by U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and similar to lead levels found in Flint, Michigan before the city began replacing the old lead-filled pipes. At 13 percent, Newark recorded the highest number of children under the age of 6, with elevated blood lead levels of all the major metropolitan areas in the state, according to a 2017 report by the NJ Department of Health.

Similar to Flint, increased lead levels have been linked to the city's aging infrastructure. Lead-lined pipes carry water to a number of homes and there is some question as to whether the proper anti-corrosion protocols have been utilized in the maintenance of those pipes, some of which are at least 100 years old.

In a letter to city leaders on Friday, August 9, the EPA urged a switch to bottled water for residents as quickly as possible, but at a press conference the following day, Newark Mayor Ras Baraka encouraged residents to flush filters for 5 minutes prior to use and did not mention the EPA recommendation. He also noted that officials are uncertain why the filters, made by Pur, don't seem to be working.

In an abrupt change, Monday morning the city announced they would be distributing bottled water to residents for use in cooking and drinking, leaving families reliant on bottled water for all their basic necessities. Erik D. Olson, a drinking water expert at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) told CNN that the City of Newark "has gradually gone from absolutely denying there are any lead problems to now admitting they have an issue."

This isn't a new problem for Newark. NRDC sued the city last year, saying the conditions violated the federal Safe Drinking Water Act. The lawsuit is pending, but in the meantime, the city is distributing water for all residents who can't drink the tap water. Authorities warned residents, especially pregnant women and children, that no levels of lead are safe, so everyone should switch to bottled water immediately.

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