EPA: Newark Should Provide Bottled Water Due to Lead

Mayor Ras Baraka of Newark. (City of Newark)

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says Newark should provide bottled water to residents with lead service lines after tests indicate filters may not be protecting them against elevated lead levels.

EPA officials say recent tests show drinking water in a few locations was still testing high for lead despite filters, so “out of an abundance of caution,” residents should use bottled water for drinking and cooking “until we can be assured of the reliable efficacy of filtration devices.”

“We believe it is the responsibility of the City of Newark to provide such bottled water as soon as possible,” the EPA said in a letter to the city’s mayor and head of the state environmental protection department. The agency warned that it was prepared to take action to ensure protection of public health should the state and city not act.

NJ.com reports that Mayor Ras Baraka told NJ Advance Media on Sunday the city will offer bottled water to affected residents but officials are still ironing out details with the state.

“It’s a preliminary caution, I just think people want to be cautious about it. It’s not going to hurt anybody to give out the water,” he said. “We are going to do it until we figure out if the issue is the filter.”

On Saturday, Baraka said it isn’t clear why the filters — which are nationally certified and used across the country — weren’t removing lead at expected levels. He urged residents to flush the water for five minutes before using the filters, but didn’t mention the EPA’s request for bottled water distribution.

The city has been grappling with elevated lead levels in water for nearly three years and has distributed 38,000 filters to residents.

The National Resources Defense Council and an association of city educators earlier filed a federal lawsuit accusing the city of inadequate monitoring and testing of the water system. The group is asking a judge to order the city to give its most vulnerable residents bottled water or expand its filter program, including providing assistance with installation.

The EPA said is isn’t clear why the filters don’t seem to be working as expected, but said the effectiveness of filters depends on “operator use, water chemistry and the level of the contaminants.”