Lead Crisis: Newark, New Jersey


Analies Dyjak  |  Policy Nerd

Newark, New Jersey is experiencing high levels of lead in their drinking water, as reported by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). Recent water testing by the Newark Water Department and outside organizations have found elevated levels of lead in public drinking water systems.

Health Risks of Lead Exposure

Lead is a neurotoxin, which is a chemical agent that affects the transmission of chemical signals between neurons. Lead exposure in children can result in a lower IQ, delayed or impaired neurological development, decreased hearing, speech and language disabilities, poor attention span and learning disabilities. There is no safe level of lead for children.

Past, Present, and Future Lead Problems 

Newark, New Jersey has historically had issues with high lead concentrations in their drinking water. A 2015 study found lead levels in the 90th percentile of 10 parts of billion, with 4 sites exceeding the 15 parts per billion action level. While this still meets the loose EPA drinking water standards, it’s important to note that only 10% of service lines were tested in this study. Newark city employees seem to have a different opinion on the lead predicament. On April 27, 2018, the City of Newark released a statement declaring Newark city drinking water “absolutely safe to drink.” Just days prior to this headline, the City of Newark posted a public notice disclosing the health effects of lead and how to minimize exposure. These are two very contradictory approaches to addressing lead contamination. We were unable to see for ourselves the most recent water quality reports because they are NOT available on the city’s websites. We reached out to city officials to obtain data but have yet to hear back. Also, in 2016, Newark’s Director of Water and Sewer Utilities, Andrea Adebowale stated that “service lines connecting the homes with the city water system are the responsibility of homeowners.” So even if Newark were to acknowledge the lead crisis, it’s likely that homeowners would receive little to no remediation assistance from the city.

That being said, we do not recommend allowing children to consume Newark city drinking water at this time. As Hydroviv has stated numerous times, there is no safe level of lead in drinking water that is suitable for children. Adults, particularly pregnant women, should take proper steps to reduce exposure to lead in drinking water.

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