Belleville mayor taps shame in battle with DEP over lead filters for tap water

Belleville Mayor Michael Melham said his feeling of helplessness is what drove him to put up a donated billboard to try to shame the state Department of Environmental Protection into providing 6,000 water filters to his residents.

“It’s a plea,” he said.

RELATED: Lead concerns spread to towns that share Newark’s water supply

On Monday, the DEP announced it was giving Newark $1 million to show residents how to install water filters. That same day, Melham said he questioned DEP Commissioner Catherine McCabe on a conference call about why filters weren’t being distributed in Belleville.

“After some back and forth, the call was abruptly ended. That’s where we are today,” he said.

The commissioner’s office has not replied to NJTV News’ request for comment.

Belleville gets its water from Newark’s Pequannock treatment plant, where faulty corrosion control has resulted in lead leaching from service lines. The mayor estimates homeowners need to replace some 6,000 lead service lines at roughly $24 million.

RELATED: Newark’s Lead Crisis | Collection

Melham praised Newark Mayor Ras Baraka as generous for sharing state-donated bottled water with his town and planning to replace the lead service lines of nearly 500 property owners who get their water through Newark’s infrastructure.

Melham and the council are considering whether to follow Newark’s model and borrow money for the replacement of other service lines in Belleville. But in the short term, he wants residents to drink water filtered through PUR water pitchers. He told NJTV News he rejected an under-the-sink filter from Brondell because the installation requires drilling and more.

Thursday, the San Francisco-based company donated 2,000 filters to Newark through Assemblywoman Shanique Speight. Normally the filter systems cost $100 each. Brondell is offering rebates for other ones and the company president says he will consider donating to other municipalities as well.

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