Major Settlement Reached in Newark Tap Water Lead Case

Newark, New Jersey have secured safe drinking water protections from lead contamination under a proposed settlement agreement
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Photo: NRDC\YouTube

Residents of Newark, New Jersey have secured safe drinking water protections from lead contamination under a proposed settlement agreement submitted to a federal court today.

The proposed settlement, made possible by the City of Newark’s significant progress in removing its lead pipes, requires the City to finish replacing the pipes and ensure critical health protections for residents. The citizen suit was brought by the Newark Education Workers (NEW) Caucus and NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council), to combat high lead levels leaching into drinking water, and violations of the federal Safe Drinking Water Act. There is no safe level of exposure to lead.

“Lead damages children’s brains, which is why our group of public school teachers brought this case to secure safe drinking water for families in Newark,” said Yvette Jordan, chair of the NEW Caucus. “Thankfully, our actions worked. Newark has come a long way to provide a brighter future for its children, and this settlement will ensure the job is finished,” added Jordan.

“NEW Caucus and other residents stood up to fight for safe drinking water in Newark, securing an extraordinary victory for generations of kids who will live healthier, better lives because they won’t be drinking leaded tap water,” said Erik D. Olson, NRDC’s Senior Strategic Director for Health. “Newark’s aggressive lead service line replacement program, at no direct cost to residents, could serve as a model for the nation once it is completed.”

While considerable progress has been made, it is critical for residents eligible for water filters to continue using them, and to make sure to replace expired water filter cartridges.

The proposed agreement would require the City of Newark to continue its rapid pace of fully replacing lead service lines from the water main pipe to people’s homes, at no direct cost to them. No partial pipe replacements are permitted under the agreement. The City initiated a lead service line replacement program in March 2019 and expects to complete replacement of an estimated 18,000 pipes by early spring 2021.

The proposed agreement also requires Newark to continue to provide free water testing to residents, as well as free filters and replacement cartridges to eligible residents. Newark must engage in extensive public education to emphasize to residents the importance of replacing filter cartridges because of the health risks of using expired cartridges. (See a summary of key terms of the proposed agreement below.)

NRDC and NEW Caucus will monitor implementation of the settlement and make available information related to the status of lead pipe removal and water quality reports at www.nrdc.org. The proposed settlement also requires that Newark continue to provide important information to residents on its website, and that the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) build its own webpage sharing important information on water and corrosion control testing in Newark.

NEW Caucus and NRDC filed the lawsuit against the City of Newark and New Jersey state officials in June 2018. No money damages were sought—just a solution to the lead contamination of Newark’s drinking water.

The key terms of the proposed agreement include:

  • Newark must replace all lead service lines that it can identify following a diligent effort, at no direct cost to residents, and at its current rapid pace. Newark cannot perform any partial replacements, which would leave portions of lead lines in the ground and create health risks for residents, except if a home is abandoned. For abandoned properties, Newark will replace the lead line from the water main to the curb stop. Residents reoccupying vacant homes should call the City immediately to join the free replacement program while it remains in effect.
  • Newark must continue to provide free drinking water lead testing to residents, and free filters and replacement cartridges to eligible residents through the term of the agreement.
  • Through townhalls, social media, and other public forums, Newark must engage in extensive public education to emphasize to residents the importance of properly installing, replacing, and maintaining filter cartridges because of the health risks of using expired or improperly installed cartridges.
  • Newark will maintain, at least through 2021, a multilingual website with critical information such as lead service line replacement eligibility and status, filter distribution status, and water test results for every Newark water consumer.
  • NJDEP must publicly post important data, including results of ongoing tap water and water quality sampling and corrosion control testing, to allow NEW Caucus, NRDC, and all residents of Newark to monitor the City’s progress in addressing lead issues. NJDEP will also establish a helpline to respond to Newark residents’ concerns.
  • The term of the agreement extends through June 30, 2021, for some terms, and through December 31, 2021 (or later) for others. The agreement will not take effect until approved by the Court.

The proposed settlement can be found here.

Visit NDRC at www.nrdc.org and follow them on Twitter @NRDC

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