Newark Mayor Ras Baraka is taking President Trump to task for staging a standoff to build a $5 billion border wall while the northern New Jersey city and other communities face a crisis with lead in their water.
As the government shutdown engineered by the president to compel lawmakers to fund a border wall approached almost a month, Baraka, a Democrat, wrote an open letter to Trump dated Monday pointing out that Newark along with 20 other New Jersey communities and thousands of others across the country have elevated lead levels in their tap water.
“I want to bring your attention to a true emergency that puts millions of our citizens at risk: The decaying infrastructure of our water systems which has created a crisis in Newark, the State of New Jersey and across America,” Baraka wrote in the one-page letter shared with TheGrio. “Dangerously high levels of lead are entering homes and our children’s blood through lead service lines despite the fact that any level of lead can damage the developing brains of young children.”
The crisis particularly affects Black and Brown cities with aging infrastructure, Baraka wrote, explaining that Newark is distributing 40,000 water filters to residents in the short term as it looks to the $70 million task to replacing lead service lines. The mayor said this is the best solution for Newark and other communities and that doing this across the country would cost $35 billion.
The crisis is real in Newark.
Last week, NJ.com reported the city was experiencing the highest lead levels recorded in the last 17 years.
Last June, the National Resource Defense Council filed a lawsuit against the city alleging that filters will not protect everyone and claiming that the city knew about the problems for a year before informing the public, New York’s WPIX reported.
In recent months, lead chips began breaking off inside Newark’s water lines and leaching into the water, according to WPIX. In October, the city recommended that infants and children under 6 drink only bottled water and that children be tested for lead.
Baraka is proposing that cities with aging water lines have the infrastructure completely replaced, and he says few municipalities can afford this.
The White House did not immediately respond to messages left via phone and email for reaction. Many federal government workers, including those assigned to the White House and the administration, are not working during the government shutdown.
Baraka wrote, “You have been saying that a border wall will save thousands of American lives, but that’s not true. Instead of wasting billions of dollars to keep an ill-conceived campaign promise, I urge you to use our resources in a way that will truly save American lives – help repair our nation’s deteriorated water infrastructure.”