Newark, hailed for its mass replacement of lead lines, finds some still have lead

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By Dan Sears

Newark Mayor Ras Baraka said on Tuesday that his administration found remaining lead components in three water service lines at residences that were supposed to have been replaced — a blemish on the New Jersey city’s mass replacement of lead lines, which has been held up as a national model.

According to the mayor, water lines that were supposed to be replaced in full by a third party were only partially replaced. Baraka said that the city immediately replaced the “problematic” pipes.

Baraka said his administration will now conduct an audit of some of the work done to replace pipes in the city to see if there are more with remaining lead. The mayor did not disclose the name of the third party that performed the replacement work.

“Trust me, I can’t wait to tell you what’s going on and exactly who they are,” Baraka told the press on Tuesday.

Shawn LaTourette, commissioner of the state’s Department of Environmental Protection, said during Tuesday’s briefing that the discovery of lead is “not a cause for panic.”

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LaTourette said the city was committed to full replacements, which he noted are required by state law.

Newark undertook the task of replacing its lead pipes after federal officials found filters weren’t effectively protecting some residents from elevated lead levels in the city’s water. The city distributed bottled water to thousands of residents in 2019 at the urging of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and warned them not to rely on filters for drinking water or cooking. Over the next three years, the city rapidly replaced more than 20,000 lead pipes, accelerating a previous plan to replace lines over the course of a decade, which Vice President Kamala Harris called a “role model” for the rest of the country.

“We were completely done. To say that now, makes that statement not true,” Baraka said on Tuesday.

LaTourette said the audit will take a few weeks and focus on a small number of properties. However, he left open the possibility that the investigation could expand depending on its findings.

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“We do not know the exact confines yet,” he said.

The commissioner said officials would keep the public informed as the investigation progressed.

The city also plans to send letters to 180,000 residents about the three lead pipes that were found. Officials have also published information on the DEP’s website.

“I am confident that the folks that did the work did it correctly, most of them,” the mayor said.

On its website, the DEP advises residents to run their water to flush out possible lead contaminants, use city-provided or third-party filters on their water, and use cold water for cooking and preparing baby formula. It also cautions that boiling water does not reduce lead. Newark residents can have their water tested and their service lines replaced for free by contacting [email protected] or 973-733-6303.

The state Department of Health also recommends screening for children under age 18. Free screening is available at Newark’s Health Department, at 110 Williams St. Appointments can be scheduled at 973-733-5310.

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Baraka said information about the faulty pipe replacements was inadvertently revealed earlier in the day on Tuesday when a portion of his executive session with city councilmembers was accidentally streamed on YouTube. The mayor’s office then called the press briefing Tuesday afternoon.

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