EPA says Newark should provide residents bottled water amid lead level concerns

The mayor of New Jersey’s largest city Sunday said officials in Newark would offer bottled water to some residents after tests indicated filters may not be protecting them against elevated lead levels.

In a joint statement with Gov. Phil Murphy, Newark Mayor Ras Baraka said they would provide bottled water at four local centers beginning Monday.

“Access to safe drinking water is critically important to our administrations and we take health risks associated with lead in drinking water very seriously,” the statement said.

The city has been grappling with elevated lead levels in the water for almost three years.

The joint statement came two days after the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said in a letter addressed to the city that recent tests showed drinking water in select locations was still testing high for lead despite filters.

“We are unable at this time to assure Newark residents that their health is fully protected when drinking tap water filtered through these devices,” the letter said in reference to city-issued water filters.

On Aug. 6, water samples were taken at two homes in Newark, according to the EPA letter. Several samples of filtered drinking water had lead levels exceeding 15 parts per billion, the federal threshold requiring action.

The EPA said that residents should be advised to use bottled water for drinking and cooking. The agency urged Newark to provide bottled water to residents with lead pipes “as soon as possible.”

The EPA warned that it was prepared to take action to ensure the protection of public health should the state and the city not promptly act.

On Saturday, Baraka urged residents to flush the water for five minutes before using the filters.

The decision to provide bottled water drew comparisons to measures taken in Flint, Michigan, which, like Newark, has a large black population and poverty rate above 25 percent.

Baraka has rejected comparisons between Newark’s lead problem and the Flint crisis.

Murphy and Baraka said Sunday that they would “need support and assistance from the federal government if bottled water is to be provided and distributed to impacted residents.”

Last year, the Natural Resources Defense Council filed a federal lawsuit accusing the city of inadequate monitoring and testing of the water system.

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