NEWARK, NJ – It has been more than a year since Newark received a $ 120 million bond from Essex County to address its lead water pollution problems. But now – after replacing almost 15,000 of 18,000 aging private service lines – the investment has clearly paid off, according to official figures.
On Monday, Newark officials announced that the city’s Lead Service Line Replacement program has reached its final stage. This is a major milestone for Newark, which went into crisis mode after the discovery of elevated levels of lead in water supplies in thousands of households.
Newark briefly turned to bottled water and filters as a last resort, while several long-term fixes came into play. One of those fixes – replacing thousands of lead-lined pipes in local homes – was funded significantly in August 2019 when Essex County helped the city borrow $ 120 million in funding to expedite the process.
The money helped Newark keep a promise to help homeowners in need by paying in full for a project that can typically cost thousands of dollars. In the meantime, more than 83 percent of these lines have been replaced by copper pipes – at no cost to taxpayers or residents, according to the authorities.
“From the beginning it was not just about guidelines, but also about ensuring the health, safety and quality of life of our community today and in the future,” said Mayor Ras Baraka. “I’m happy to announce that, unless unforeseen circumstances arise, Newark will not only be removing every last lead service line in our city but well ahead of schedule, maybe even by spring.”
“Last year we all knew that replacing utility lines was the only long-term solution to the high lead content in Newark’s water,” said Joseph DiVincenzo Jr., executive of Essex County. “On the first anniversary of this partnership, we can see what can be achieved to protect the health and quality of life of our residents when governments work together and share their resources.”
Monday’s update also got a thumbs up from Governor Phil Murphy.
“Aging water infrastructure has affected not only the city of Newark, but the communities in New Jersey and our nation as a whole,” Murphy said. “Today’s announcement builds on the state’s commitment to replacing pipelines within the next 10 years to provide everyone with access to clean and safe drinking water.”
“Our finance team has put a refinancing structure in place that can generate nearly $ 15 million in service savings. This kind of thinking ahead has enabled our water progress and put our city on a solid financial footing.” – @rasjbaraka https://t.co/liEVad6wyD pic.twitter.com/YI2VENBQk1
– City of Newark (@CityofNewarkNJ) September 21, 2020
Another long-term solution for the city was introduced when the city introduced a new corrosion treatment system last year. These efforts have also produced results; The average lead content in Newark’s water recently fell below 15 parts per billion. For the first time since 2017, Newark is under the approved trace lead presence of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
However, some proponents have warned that despite the profits, the city is not home free.
In July, the Defense Council for Natural Resources (NRDC), which had previously filed a lawsuit against the city over its bottled water distribution program, stated that Newark “is not yet out of the woods.”
“Put simply, there are no safe levels of lead,” said Erik Olson, senior strategic director for health at NRDC. “It is encouraging that the lead levels in Newark’s drinking water appear to be decreasing and that many lead service lines have been replaced. But, as the mayor said, the job is still ongoing.”
Newark lead levels over the years. This is not a new problem. The city has made progress, but as the CDC says there is no safe lead content. The results are always biased, and the only way to really know is if you have a test result. Make sure you test your water! pic.twitter.com/ryzDX5qSkX
– NewarkWaterCoalition (@ CleanWater4Nwk) August 11, 2020
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