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Newark Water Crisis: High Levels Of Lead Found, Prompting Safety Concerns

NEWARK, N.J. (CBSNewYork) -- There are concerns that water in parts of New Jersey's largest city isn't safe to drink because of lead.

The federal government urged Newark officials to provide bottled water to thousands of its residents, which they are in the process of doing, CBS2's Marc Liverman reported Sunday.

The Environmental Protection Agency discovered two cases of high-lead levels during checks at two residences with water filters provided by the City of Newark.

The EPA said the lead filters may not be performing as expected.

RELATED STORY: Newark Breaks Ground On $75 Million Project To Remove 1,500 Lead Service Lines On Private Property

Newark said it has distributed over 38,000 lead-safe water filters, and on Saturday, Mayor Ras Baraka said most of them are working.

"Testing showed that the filters were very effective in the locations that ran their water, which is why we encourage you to continue running the water to get fresh water in the pipes so that orthophosphate can coat the pipes," he said.

Later, Baraka and Gov. Phil Murphy issued the following joint statement on the situation:

"Access to safe drinking water is critically important to our administrations and we take health risks associated with lead in drinking water very seriously. Recent testing by the City of Newark of water samples taken from three Newark homes, using City-issued water filters, found elevated lead levels in filtered water in two of the homes. In coordination with the City of Newark, Mayor Baraka and I are prepared to do everything the City needs, including making bottled water available to local residents. The City of Newark is currently expanding testing of filtered drinking water to more Newark homes and, in coordination with the Department of Environmental Protection, is actively working with the filter manufacturer to determine the scope of the situation and identify required corrective action as soon as possible.

"As we carefully evaluate our options and the data available to us, it is important to understand that the City and State will need support and assistance from the federal government if bottled water is to be provided and distributed to impacted residents.

"It is also important to understand that long-term distribution of bottled water has potential to impact the City's new corrosion control treatment that was launched in May. Experts expect to see a reduction of lead levels by the end of this year after the corrosion control optimizes. As part of the City's initial filter testing, the engineers saw positive signs that the orthophosphate is in the distribution system, and we are optimistic that the orthophosphate will eventually provide the protective coating necessary to prevent leaching from lead pipes. But to continue these trends, residents must continue to keep city water flowing through their pipes because this is necessary to move the orthophosphate through the system and form a protective coating around the inner lining of the pipes."

Baraka and Murphy went on to say families in the Pequannock service area with lead services lines who have received filters can pick up water at the following locations:

  • The City of Newark Department of Health and Wellness, 110 William St.
  • Bo Porter Sports Complex, 378 Lyons Ave.
  • Boylan Street Recreation Center, 916 South Orange Ave.
  • Vince Lombardi Center, 201 Bloomfield Ave.

Bottled water will be available while extensive testing is conducted.

Late Saturday, the EPA put out a statement saying, "Out of an abundance of caution, residents should be advised to use bottled water for drinking and cooking" for the time being.

"I don't want anybody to get sick or die," Newark resident Jean McNair said.

WEB EXTRA: Statement from EPA on Actions to Protect Communities in Newark, NJ from Lead in Drinking Water

The city said until additional testing is done, residents at approximately 15,000 homes in the Pequannock area who have lead service lines are advised to run their water for five minutes before filtering, something resident Herbert Yarborough said he wasn't aware of.

"Just run it for a minute or something and just drink it, but I didn't know we had to run it for five minutes," Yarborough said.

Residents are also reminded that boiling water is not effective for removing lead.

"It's a health hazard, not only to myself but for others," resident Kear Williams said.

Health officials said pregnant women and young children are most at risk when it comes to lead exposure.

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