Newark officials reach settlement over lead contamination in drinking water

Newark is replacing all lead service lines free of charge to its residents, a process already begun that's nearing completion.

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The city of Newark and state officials have settled their lawsuit after the drinking water in the city was contaminated with high levels of lead in its pipes.

The Natural Resources Defense Council and Newark Education Workers’ Caucus sued the city and the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection in 2018, alleging that the state violated federal Safe Drinking Water Act regulations.

An August 2019 press conference at the Newark Health Department shows Newark Mayor Ras Baraka speaking about Newark’s ongoing water crisis. At left is Kareem Addem, acting director of Water and Sewer Utilities in Newark, and New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy. (Photo by Rick Loomis/Getty Images)

The case was ordered to mediation in 2019 and has finally reached a settlement — one that requires the city to replace all lead service lines free of charge to residents. The process had already begun and is nearing completion. More than 17,000 of the 19,000 lead service lines in Newark have already been replaced.

Until the work is done, the city must continue to provide free drinking water, testing kits and filters to its residents.

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Additionally, Newark will create a website dedicated to providing updates regarding the water system that includes data for quality sampling and corrosion testing.

“By the grace of God, we are near completion of our lead service line replacement program, and I am thankful that we were able to identify the issue, do the work, and (can) help make our residents safer,” Mayor Ras Baraka said in a statement Tuesday.

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Unsatisfactory lead levels were detected in Newark Public Schools starting in 2010. The Newark Board of Education was awarded a $7.5 million grant to replace pipes and fixtures over a decade later.

Lead poisoning has been an ongoing problem in older cities largely inhabited by Black and brown people, causing physical pain, gastrointestinal problems and developmental delays in children.

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Newark’s modernization of its water system has been highlighted as a potential model for others in the nation.

“Modernizing the nation’s aging water infrastructure is vital in ensuring access to clean, safe drinking water and protecting our communities from the dangers of lead exposure,” said New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy. “Our administration is committed to confronting this challenge head-on and having New Jersey lead the nation in updating critical water infrastructure to benefit all residents and future generations to come.”

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