Newark, New Jersey, is facing a lead contamination problem similar to what Flint, Michigan, has faced since 2014.
For Newark, national media has not brought out the cavalry like it did in Flint, when Michigan had a Republican governor. Newark is a Democrat-controlled city in a Democrat-controlled state, and so the only attention the city will receive will likely be a single article from multiple media outlets.
CNN reported Saturday that Newark resident Shakima Thomas is worried about her 5-year-old son’s health. He must bathe in the contaminated water, and Thomas worried he might ingest some. Their kitchen faucet has a filter that reduces the amount of lead in their water, but they don’t have such a filter for showers and baths. Beyond that, Thomas said she was disappointed in local politicians who she believes aren’t doing enough to protect the community.
“They’re not advocating for the residents at all,” Thomas said. “Forget the adults. What about the children? Who’s looking out for them? He can’t go to the City Council and speak on his own behalf. He doesn’t even know he’s being poisoned.”
Time Magazine reported Newark Officials have begun providing bottled water to more than 15,000 homes each day. They started handing out the water bottles on August 11. The outlet reported that a “federal judge is now determining whether or not the city has to expand the distribution of bottled water to more parts of the city.”
Time reported that the contamination problem is likely due to corrosion in water pipes. The Associated Press reported that some neighborhoods in Newark have pipes that are more than 100 years old. Tests conducted in June 2017 found that more than 10% of homes in Newark “had twice the amount of lead that is considered safe according to federal law,” according to Time.
In late June 2017, the Natural Resources Defense Council sent a letter to Newark officials about the problem, which read in part:
Newark’s lead levels are now among the highest recorded by a large water system in America in recent years. In its most recently reported monitoring period, Newark’s lead levels tripled as compared to previous measurements – rising to 27 parts per billion at the 90th percentile, meaning at least 10 percent of the addresses tested had 27 parts per billion or more of lead in their water. Those levels are approximately the same as the 90th percentile contamination measured by independent testing in Flint, Michigan in August and September, 2015, when Flint was not using any chemical treatment to reduce lead contamination in its water.
If the Newark water crisis becomes a larger story and cause for politicians — just as Flint did — it will likely be tied to former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s administration. The problem has been known about since at least 2017, and current Democrat Gov. Phil Murphy entered office in January 2018. There were likely failures at the local and state level, just as there were in Flint.
On Wednesday, Murphy toured a water distribution plant and said that it’s “a right, not a privilege, to have clean, safe water,” and that his administration was “committed to that.”