Sierra Club Statement on Lead in Newark Drinking Water

Sierra Club Statement on Lead in Newark Drinking Water
Date : Wed, 9 Mar 2016 16:20:24 -0500

Mayor Baraka of Newark is holding a press conference regarding the recent discovery of dangerous lead levels in Newark Public Schools’ drinking water. Earlier today the DEP announced that 30 schools will temporarily be using alternate sources of water. The Legislature has recently held hearings regarding lead in New Jersey’s drinking water. Jeff Tittel, Director of the New Jersey Sierra Club, released the following statement:

We hope that the Mayor is right in saying that the lead is only in the schools and not the entire system; however, there still needs to be an independent and thorough investigation to make sure that it’s not more widespread. This discovery of lead in drinking water in the 30 schools could be a systemic problem that’s happening throughout the City of Newark. There needs to be a thorough investigation to find the source of the lead. In some places they found lead levels ten times what it should be. This has been going on for at least a year, maybe longer. Is it coming from the pipes or from the water itself? There should never be lead found in drinking water so this is very troubling. There may be a very serious problem here that we have to get to the bottom of and address. All the kids should be tested for lead as well since lead is such a dangerous health hazard. We need to make sure that they’re healthy. Due to what’s happened in Flint, we have to be extra careful and have due diligence. We’re dealing with our most precious resource: our children.

“We have concerns that Newark’s water supply is becoming contaminated with pollution and that this pollution could increase the amount of lead in the water. As the water becomes more polluted, chlorides are added to kill the bacteria. These chlorides can allow lead to leach into the water. This is a similar situation to the Flint River in Michigan. Water from the Newark Water Supply System could be so polluted that by treating the pollution, it’s actually increased the amount of lead in the water people drink.

“Another possible lead source could be the pipes themselves. New Jersey cities have old outdated pipes in our streets and homes which can mean even higher levels of lead in our water. Many of our water systems go back to the Victorian era and even homes built in the 30’s and 40’s have pipes made with lead sodder. We also don’t do enough testing at the faucet; most of the testing is done at the plant. This means that the lead from these old pipes come into our water before it gets to our homes.

“There are political games being played with Newark’s water. The previous Administration tried to form a Municipal Utility Authority to take money from the water system in order to balance the budget. They were more concerned with getting money from the water system than they were with adequately protecting the drinking water for the people of Newark. We’ve also seen indictments of some of the leaders of the Newark Watershed Development Corporation. It makes you wonder what’s really going on with Newark’s water system.

“Under the Christie Administration in the last six years there has been a drop in inspections and enforcement when it comes to water supply and the environment. This could be one of the reasons why this lead was only now discovered. There needs to be an independent investigation of what’s going on in Newark because we don’t necessarily trust the DEP. We also need thorough investigations throughout all of New Jersey, especially in our urban areas.

“Children in some New Jersey cities have more lead in their blood than those in Flint, Michigan. Lead can cause illness and even in small amounts can lead to brain damage and learning disabilities. It can also lead to childhood development problems and other serious health issues. Thousands of children are diagnosed with lead poisoning in New Jersey each year; over 3,000 in 2015 alone. New Jersey is using the Action Level of 15ppb when it should be stricter: at least 5 ppb. This means it could be an even bigger problem. This is a systemic issue that needs to be dealt with. We need to do a better job of testing throughout the state and fixing these problems. We can’t allow our children to be put at risk.

“Christie said lead wasn’t a problem when he vetoed a bill that would give $10 million to remove lead from children’s homes. Once again, the Governor is wrong. Problems in our schools like the ones in Newark show that lead is a serious problem. We shouldn’t be balancing our budget on the backs of our children’s health. Just like in Flint, Michigan, we have a governor who is more concerned with politics than protecting drinking water or the health of our children.

“Flint Michigan is a major man-made public health and environment disaster. It happened because of an anti-environmental and regulatory agenda set by Governor Rick Snyder. Governor Snyder chose an emergency manager who was political crony and industry lobbyist who decided to use the polluted Flint River for the town’s water supply to save money. Just like in Michigan, Governor Christie has also stacked his administration and environmental and public health professionals with political friends and former lobbyists that worked for polluters. We have serious concerns that what happened in Flint could happen in New Jersey because the Christie Administration has weakened and rolled back clean water protections in New Jersey.

“With these recent findings in Newark, it is even more important that the Legislature is examining the issue of lead in our drinking water. The Christie Administration won’t protect children from these contaminates so the Legislature is stepping up to do the job. Governor Christie has put our environment and public health at risk. His policies have allowed for more pollution in our waterways. He has vetoed important legislation to keep toxins out of drinking water. He has stolen money from lead abatement and used it to plug holes in the budget. The costs associated with upgrading New Jersey’s water systems are huge. We need a minimum of $8 billion to upgrade our pipes and another $8 billion for wastewater treatment plants.

“The children of Newark should not have been drinking water filled with lead. We need to work to reduce lead in our drinking water and keep the people of New Jersey safe. New Jersey has a Private Well Testing Act that says water for homes on wells has to be tested at the faucet and the well when a home is sold. We need to expand that Act to include the same standards for all homes, including ones that are not on wells. We should also make faucet testing a part of the check-list for selling any home.

“We have a serious health problem in Newark that we have to deal with and deal with now. We also need to make sure that children can live in lead-free environments throughout New Jersey. We need to have swift action to find the source of this lead and protect our children its health effects. Mayor Baraka has been a strong advocate for protecting Newark’s water and had opposed the MUA. We’d like to help the Mayor in dealing with this series health issue and would work with him to get to the bottom of this and take corrective action.”

Jamie Zaccaria Administrative Assistant New Jersey Sierra Club office: (609) 656-7612