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Newark Water Crisis: City Again Handing Out Bottles, But Residents Say Communication Remains Poor

NEWARK, N.J. (CBSNewYork) -- There is more frustration in New Jersey largest city, where thousands of people are dealing with a water crisis.

Newark is still struggling to provide bottled water to residents, and on Wednesday Gov. Phil Murphy saw for himself exactly what's going on, as he, along with Mayor Ras Baraka, toured the Department of Health and Wellness.

Web Extra: Gov. Phil Murphy, Local Officials On Newark Water Emergency

"The state has been and will continue to stand right side by side with the mayor and his team, and we will do all that we can to get this as right as fast as we can," Murphy said.

The state provided Newark with 70,000 cases of bottled water to help with the demand, but the governor insisted federal funding is needed to help maintain the water supply and for the long-term infrastructure costs to replace 300,000 lead lateral lines across the entire state.

"The bigger longer-term reality, this isn't just a Newark issue within the state of New Jersey, and it's not just a New Jersey issue. We need the federal government," Murphy said.

The day did not start out well. Residents showing up to get water told CBS2's Hazel Sanchez they had a lot of questions and complaints. One of their frustrations was whether or not the water they finally received was safe enough to drink.

Newark bottled water
The Department of Environmental Protection says even if you have bottled water that is past its "best by" date, it is still safe to drink. (Photo: CBS2)

The city finally started handing out water just before 10 a.m. Locals said they felt fortunate to get their share after Tuesday's debacle when distribution sites stopped handing out water for several hours, because the supply was past its "best by" date of May this year.

But officials resumed handing it out after the Food and Drug Administration said bottled water had no shelf life and was safe to drink.

READ: Newark's FAQ On Filters & Efforts To Address Lead In The Water

The Environmental Protection Agency initially advised Newark to use a water faucet filter to eliminate lead. Later, it ordered the city to distribute bottled water when three homes using the filter were found to have high levels of lead.

"That was supposed to be the safeguard because they knew the pipes and everything, the water lines were bad. So they give us this, but it's just a Band-Aid and the poison is still there," one resident said.

"The health of our community is at stake here, and our officials, in our opinion, for people who are really looking at this now, they are as culpable in this scam that is going on, just like Flint," community advocate Donna Jackson said.

In a virtual town hall on Tuesday night, City Hall officials said they plan to test more of the 38,000 filters distributed since last year.

"We absolutely do not have enough information one way or another to determine whether the filters are working or not," Baraka said Wednesday. "In the meantime, we are going to give out water until we are able to make those determinations."

Catherine McCabe, the commissioner for the state Department of Environmental Protection, is meeting Thursday with the federal EPA in Washington. They'll be finalizing the protocol to determine how many homes must pass the lead test before they decide bottled water isn't needed.

"The EPA is as surprised as we are. These PUR water filters were used in Flint [Michigan]. They did a big study in Flint to show that these filters were effective at even the higher levels of lead that they had in Flint, which are not like the levels that we have here in Newark," McCabe said.

"It's too early to tell. One of those houses that had a negative reading, the homeowner had gone out and bought their own, bought another company's filter, and that filter, in fact, according to that homeowner, did the trick," Murphy said.

Some residents said they don't know what to believe anymore.

When asked how she feels Newark has handled this whole water crisis, resident Jelissa Curry said, "Do you really want to know? They don't help with nothing. They don't do nothing. They don't help with nothing. It's just ... nothing," adding the communication between the city and the residents continues to be a problem.

Experts say there's no excuse for any delay in figuring out what's wrong.

"They should be able to get the results from a certified lab in a few hours for lead. It's not that complicated of a test," Jeff Tittel, of the NJ Sierra Club, said.

Free water testing to homeowners is being offered as the investigation continues.

Meanwhile, University Hospital will be offering free lead screenings from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday for children and adults in the affected zip codes.

To make an appointment, call (973) 972-9000. Residents should bring a proof of address to their screening, and guardians accompanying children should bring proof of their relationship to the child.

Families in the Pequannock service area with lead service 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.

For more information, including frequently asked questions, click here.

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