Image: Andrew Maclean/NJ Advance Media for

After it was determined that the 40,000 filters Newark city officials gave out to residents to address the ongoing water crisis weren’t actually filtering out lead, the city decided to begin distributing bottled water. In a startling echo of Flint, residents of Newark have been kept in the dark about the safety of their drinking water. Last Friday the EPA sent a letter to Newark mayor Ras Baraka and Catherine McCabe, the Commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, pressing that it was “essential” to warn residents not to rely on issued water filters.

Residents Fed Up: While only some residents are eligible for bottled water, others received robo calls informing them to come pick up bottled water only to be turned away when their address wasn’t on the list. Other residents had to wait in line for 2 hours just to get water and are understandably fed up and want to be able to trust the water coming out of their taps. As one resident named Sandra explained to NJ online, “It’s terrible. We’ve got to stand in line for a natural resource that should be free for everybody. We can’t drink it, we can’t wash in it and we still got to pay for it.”

Cry for Help: The city of Newark as well as the state of New Jersey have limited resources and said it’s unclear for how long they would be able to distribute water. Catherine McCabe explained that “EPA has not offered any support in providing bottled water to the city or in distributing that bottled water,” adding in a letter to the federal agency that “Given the concerns EPA has here, we hope that EPA will offer assistance promptly.” Additionally, Mayor Baraka said it would cost about $70 million to replace lead service lines in Newark and is also asking the federal government to help with this cost.

What’s Being Done: As explained, “Newark began a new corrosion control treatment that coats old lead pipes and prevents them from dissolving lead into the water. The treatment is expected to take months to be fully effective and city officials have urged residents to continue flushing the water to make sure the chemical runs through the water supply.” But aging infrastructure can only serve its function for so long, eventually, pipes will need to be replaced.

In the Dark: The New York Times reported that Newark’s residents were being given accurate information about their drinking water? “For nearly a year and a half after high lead levels were first discovered in the water system, Mr. Baraka and other officials blamed aging lead pipes, insisting on the city’s website that the water was “absolutely safe to drink.” But Newark changed course after a study found that lead was leaching into the water because of ineffective corrosion treatment at the city’s Pequannock plant.”

Why This Matters: There is no safe level of lead in drinking water and children can be especially affected by lead contamination. Unfortunately, lead in America’s water is a widespread national problem that needs to be addressed at the root cause. Our national infrastructure is decaying and until lawmakers address this fact and prioritize the needs of frontline communities, buying bottled water is merely an inefficient band-aid to a really big problem facing Americans. Access to clean drinking water should be a human right and certainly one that the wealthiest nation on earth can provide for its citizens.

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