Newark begins corrosion control to reduce lead in drinking water

Yvette Jordan welcomed Newark’s plan to treat its city water system with a new chemical designed to stop corrosion from chewing up lead pipes and leaching the potent neurotoxin into drinking water.

Since 2017, lead levels have spiked. This spring, out of 159 homes tested, almost half showed elevated lead levels, particularly across the western portion of Newark served by its Pequannock reservoir system when the old anti-corrosion treatment apparently failed. On Tuesday, Newark switched chemicals.

“We have, and are introducing, the corrosion control inhibitor into the water. As of today, we are introducing it and in a few months we are prayerful that we will begin to see the lead levels begin to drop,” said Newark Mayor Ras Baraka.

The new chemical, orthophosphate, is already used by the city’s other water service area, Wanaque. It’s a food-grade additive.

“It forms a coating on the pipes, and then that coating on the pipes acts as a physical barrier to prevent the water from being in contact with the walls of the lead pipe,” said Sandy Kutzing, principal of engineering company CDM Smith.

But experts warn it will take at least six months to start working, if not longer. So environmental officials urged Newark residents to keep using the free filters handed out by the city — 36,000 so far. Jordan drinks only filtered water after the lead levels in her South Ward home hit more than 44 parts per billion, which is almost triple the federal action level of 15 parts per billion. She sued the city.

“Many of the families and children for which I am really concerned about don’t have filters,” Jordan said. “And who is monitoring this? So that’s a concern, who is actually monitoring it?”

“We are monitoring the work that the Newark Department of Water and Sewer is doing very closely. And I just want to remind you that it’s a multistep effort and this is a big step today,” said New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Catherine McCabe.

The treated water will flow from a new $700,000 chemical feed in Montclair downstream to some 500,000 customers, and not just in Newark. Bloomfield, Belleville and Nutley also get their drinking water from the same source.

“I haven’t used the water in Newark since 2016. I’ve been buying bottled water since then,” said Newark resident Sherry Scucci-Hamilton.

Scucci-Hamilton can’t drink the water either, even though Newark’s already replaced the lead service line leading from the main to her North Ward home. She’s one of the first of 15,000 who will benefit from the $75 million service line replacement project, which is the first prong of Newark’s lead abatement efforts. Her concerns?

“Not a lot of people in the city are informed. They do some social media stuff, things like that, which is how I found out. But not everybody’s on social media,” she said.

“Even though you have filters out, is it enough? Are you having health educators out there informing people what is going on?” asked Jordan.

“The city’s going to continue to do public education, community meetings, Facebook live town halls, robocalls and press releases to continue to educate the public that we’re not out of the woods, yet,” said Kareem Adeem, acting director of Newark’s Department of Water and Sewer Utilities.

The city will host a Facebook live town hall on the topic next Tuesday.

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