Newark sued for not doing enough about water contamination

Residents like teacher Al Moussab, who are worried about lead in their drinking water, announced they’ve joined with environmentalists to sue the City of Newark in federal court for moving too slowly to fix what they call a public health crisis. Ongoing tests show lead levels exceed federal safety standards in more than 20 percent of homes in the city. Lead can cause permanent neurological damage to kids and adults.

“We can force a change, right? That we don’t need to sit back and just depend on the politician and wait for them to decide when they’re going to give us what we want,” said Moussab.

It’s not the city water supply that’s bad. It’s the old service pipes that carry water from mains to homes mostly located in the North, South and West Wards.

“So although water coming from the treatment plant may not have lead in it, the water arriving in residents’ taps, coming out of residents’ faucets, has lead in it. So the claim that Newark’s water is pure or safe is misleading,” said Claire Woods, attorney for the National Resources Defense Council.

West Ward resident Pam McElveen fears lead could be leaching into her water. She’s has grandchildren living here and says the city ignored her requests to have the water tested. Her family drinks bottled water and she supports the lawsuit.

“It’s scary, so my concern is the city needs to give us the information that they should give us,” she said. “Let the people know what’s going on, what’s happening. We don’t know.”

“We’ve heard time and again from residents that calls to the Water Department go unanswered,” said NRDC attorney Sara Imperiale.

NRDC lawyers say they have also struggled to get information from the city, such as an inventory of homes showing which ones have the older, lead service pipes. It could impact more than 20,000 people.

“The city has been slow to act and quick to provide evasive nonanswers, all while repeatedly assuring the public the water is safe to drink,” Imperiale.

We told city officials that the McElveens wanted their pipes and water tested for lead. The city called here ten minutes later and said they’ll be out to test tomorrow.

“We’re doing everything we can to let our residents know about the issue, and to try and help abate the issue,” said Andrea Hall Adebowale, Newark Department of Water and Sewer Utilities director.

But the city maintains it’s distributed information, and is studying whether different chemicals can further reduce corrosion while it works to replace old service lines. There’s a program to help homeowners finance that construction, but the city says they’ve been slow to respond.

“We sent out over 3,000 letters and we haven’t even gotten 10 percent back, so as we send out these letters soliciting residents to participate, we really need them to send those letters back and participate. We can only resolve the issue with their help,” Adebowale.

But residents feel an obvious disconnect, and they will ask the court for answers, and actions, they feel they’re not getting from the city.

We’re in this together
For a better-informed future. Support our nonprofit newsroom.
Donate to NJ Spotlight