Newark water crisis

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Newark, New Jersey water crisis
Newark, New Jersey-02.jpg
Date2016 (2016)[1] – present
LocationNewark, New Jersey, U.S.
Coordinates40°43′N 74°10′W / 40.72°N 74.17°W / 40.72; -74.17Coordinates: 40°43′N 74°10′W / 40.72°N 74.17°W / 40.72; -74.17
TypeWater pollution
Lead contamination

The Newark, New Jersey water crisis began in 2016 when elevated lead levels were observed in multiple Newark Public Schools district schools throughout the city.[2]

Multiple water studies were conducted by both federal agencies, such as the United States Environmental Protection Agency, and non-profit groups.[3] The lead levels exceeded the limit of 15 parts per billion set by the Safe Drinking Water Act.[4] As a result, the EPA ordered the City of Newark to provide bottled water and filters to affected customers.[5] As of January 2020, more than 200,000 residents were affected by the elevated levels of lead.[6]


Much of the drinking water in Newark, and Northern New Jersey in general, comes from reservoirs.[7] Drinking water then is processed through water treatment plants to the final destinations throughout the region.[8] The water pipes that connect the main pipes to homes and businesses were lined with lead along with other chemicals.[9] The water destroyed the lead-lined pipes, causing the lead to leak into the water supply.[10]

The management of the city's water safety plan is under the jurisdiction of the Newark Watershed Conservation and Development Corporation (NWCDC),[11] under the direction of a board appointed by the mayor of Newark.[12] The New Jersey State Comptroller released a report in 2014 detailing widespread corruption throughout the agency.[13] In early 2016, multiple agency officials were arrested and charged with accepting bribes.[14]

Lead exposure[edit]

Lead poisoning often occurs with no obvious symptoms, it frequently goes unrecognized. Lead poisoning can cause learning disabilities, behavioral problems, and, at very high levels, seizures, coma, and even death. No safe blood lead level has been identified.[15] Pregnant women and children are most at risk. Lead exposure has been on the rise in New Jersey, especially in children. The highest numbers come from Newark in 2017, where 281 children between six months old and 26 months old tested in the city showed high lead levels in their blood.[16]

Newark addresses the issue of elevated blood lead levels in children through several means and has been allotted and continues to seek grants from governmental and non-governmental sources. In the past decade, Newark established and locally administers the State's only Lead-Safe Houses. The Lead-Safe Houses are used to relocate residents who have a child with an Elevated blood lead level (10 µg/dL or greater) when the family has no other temporary lead-safe housing alternatives.[17]



State and federal environment officials said that lead levels in multiple Newark Public Schools buildings were higher than the federal limit in March 2016.[18] The trade union representing Newark public school teachers and the New Jersey Sierra Club said that the school leadership knew of the lead problem in the drinking water.[19]


New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection mandated cities and towns to test the water supply twice a year.[20] A report published by the City of Newark stated the city was in violation of the EPA's limit of lead levels in the drinking water.[21]


In February 2018, engineering company CDM Smith said in an email to the City of Newark stated their prevention of lead pipes dissolving into the water system "has not been effective".[22] Subsequently, Newark distributed Pur water filters to affective residents.[23] During the height of the water crisis, Newark residents were able to receive 2 cases of 24 water bottles with proof of their address.[24]


In August 2019, the city government received $120 million in funds to replace lead drinking water pipes throughout the city.[25]


According to new tests conducted by the state of New Jersey, lead levels have dropped.[26][27]


By August 2021, almost all of the lead water pipes in Newark had been replaced with copper ones, solving much of the water crisis problem. Mayor Ras Baraka continues to encourage Newark residents to trust the city and get their water tested, since it is free, to keep the water crisis from occurring again.[28]

Response and aftermath[edit]

Several news outlets, including The New York Times, compared the water crisis to the one in Flint, Michigan.[20] The Natural Resources Defense Council sued the Newark city government in 2018, saying the city has violated federal and state regulations regarding lead levels in drinking water.[29] Mayor of Newark wrote a letter to the President of the United States Donald Trump, asking for federal assistance and funds to help repair and rebuild the water infrastructure.[30]

Introduced in September 2019, the Water Infrastructure Funding Transfer Act was passed by the United States Senate.[31] It was sponsored by New Jersey Senator Cory Booker.[32] The law allows the transfer the funds from the federal water fund to states.[33] It was signed into law on September 27, 2019.[34]

City response[edit]

In March 2019, Newark announced the Lead Service Line Replacement Program, which aimed to remove all 18,000 lead pipes throughout the water system.[35][36] More than 38,000 water filters were distributed to city residents,[37] in addition to bottled water.[38] A November 2019 report released by the Newark city government said that "97.5% of the filters reduced lead to 10 parts-per-billion (ppb) or below."[39]


  1. ^ "30 Newark Public Schools Shut Down Drinking Water Due To Elevated Lead Levels". WCBS-TV. March 9, 2016. Retrieved October 21, 2019.
  2. ^ "Newark Drinking Water Crisis". Natural Resources Defense Council. Retrieved September 25, 2019.
  3. ^ "TIMELINE: How Newark's water lead contamination crisis unfolded". WABC-TV. August 15, 2019. Retrieved September 25, 2019.
  4. ^ Hogan, Gwynne (September 24, 2019). "Newark Says Filtered Water Now Safe To Drink, Some Residents Still Skeptical". Gothamist. Archived from the original on September 25, 2019. Retrieved September 25, 2019.
  5. ^ Lopez, Peter (August 9, 2019). "UNITED STATES ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY" (PDF) (Press release). New York, NY. EPA. Retrieved September 25, 2019.
  6. ^ Nieves, Alicia (January 3, 2020). "Cities across the US are at risk of being exposed to elevated levels of lead in their water". KTNV-TV. Retrieved January 6, 2020.
  7. ^ Brekke, Max. "From River to Tap: How Your Water is Cleaned and Delivered". Jersey Water Works. Retrieved September 25, 2019.
  8. ^ Flanagan, Brenda (August 15, 2019). "Lead concerns spread to towns that share Newark's water supply". NJTV. Retrieved September 25, 2019.
  9. ^ Porter, David; Catalini, Mike (September 13, 2019). "Lead pipes that tainted Newark's water are found across US". Associated Press. Retrieved September 25, 2019.
  10. ^ Sax, Sarah (December 18, 2018). "How Newark got lead in its water, and what it means for the rest of America". VICE News. Retrieved September 29, 2019.
  12. ^ Bruggeman, Lucien (August 15, 2019). "For Cory Booker, water crisis awakens ghosts of past Newark water scandal". ABC News. Retrieved September 29, 2019.
  13. ^ Giambusso, David (February 19, 2014). "NJ comptroller alleges rampant corruption at Newark watershed, director pleads fifth". Retrieved September 29, 2019.
  14. ^ Giambusso, David (January 6, 2016). "Newark watershed corruption 'staggering' even to jaded observers". Politico. Retrieved September 29, 2019.
  15. ^ "Childhood Lead Poisoning". Retrieved September 16, 2021. {{cite journal}}: Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  16. ^, Michael Sol Warren | NJ Advance Media for (February 28, 2019). "The number of N.J. kids with too much lead in their blood is up for the 1st time in years". nj. Retrieved January 24, 2020.
  17. ^ "Childhood Lead Exposure in New Jersey" (PDF). New Jersey Department of Health: [26].
  18. ^ Mazzola, Jessica (March 16, 2016). "Lead in Newark schools' water dates back to at least 2012". Retrieved September 29, 2019.
  19. ^ Kiefer, Eric (March 11, 2016). "Newark Was Warned, Memo Says: Lead In School Water Supply Is A 'Smoking Gun'". Patch Media. Retrieved September 29, 2019.
  20. ^ a b Corasaniti, Nick; Kilgannon, Corey; Schwartz, John (September 29, 2019). "Tainted Water, Ignored Warnings and a Boss With a Criminal Past". New York Times. Retrieved November 28, 2019.
  21. ^ Baraka, Ras. "2017 Water Quality Report". City of Newark. Retrieved November 28, 2019.
  22. ^ Yi, Karen (July 18, 2019). "Newark said its water was safe, but email reveals it was warned of problems months ago". Retrieved December 5, 2019.
  23. ^ Yi, Karen (September 1, 2019). "How did we get here? A look back at Newark's water crisis". Retrieved December 5, 2019.
  24. ^ "'Damage has been done': Newark water crisis echoes Flint". the Guardian. August 25, 2019. Retrieved October 22, 2021.
  25. ^ Corasaniti, Nick (August 26, 2019). "Newark Water Crisis: Racing to Replace Lead Pipes in Under 3 Years". The New York Times. Retrieved January 6, 2020.
  26. ^ "Lead/Copper Summaries". New Jersey Drinking Water Watch. New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection. Retrieved January 22, 2020.
  27. ^ Yi, Karen (January 6, 2020). "Newark lead levels are lower but still elevated, new water tests show". Retrieved January 22, 2020.
  28. ^ "Two years after Newark's water crisis, the city has cleaned up its act". PBS NewsHour. August 22, 2021. Retrieved October 22, 2021.
  29. ^ Leyden, Liz (December 3, 2018). "A Water Crisis in Newark Brings New Worries". Retrieved December 5, 2019.
  30. ^ Baraka, Ras. "OPEN LETTER TO PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP FROM MAYOR RAS J. BARAKA". City of Newark. Retrieved December 5, 2019.
  31. ^ "S.1689 - A bill to permit States to transfer certain funds from the clean water revolving fund of a State to the drinking water revolving fund of the State in certain circumstances, and for other purposes". Retrieved December 5, 2019.
  32. ^ Booker, Cory (October 4, 2019). "Booker Bill to Help Communities Get Lead Out of Drinking Water Signed into Law" (Press release). Washington, D.C.: United States Senate. Retrieved December 5, 2019.
  33. ^ Wheeler, Andre. "Statement from EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler on the Water Infrastructure Funding Transfer Act". United States Environmental Protection Agency.
  34. ^ Kiefer, Eric (October 7, 2019). "Victory For Newark, Cory Booker Says; Trump Signs Water Bill". Retrieved December 5, 2019.
  35. ^ Scutti, Susan (August 15, 2019). "How the Newark water crisis unfolded". CNN. Retrieved December 5, 2019.
  36. ^ "Newark Water Crisis: Officials Say 97% Of Filters Tested Reduced Lead In Water". CBS New York. September 29, 2019. Retrieved December 5, 2019.
  37. ^ Fitz-Gibbon, Jorge (September 23, 2019). "Lead filters working in Newark, tap water safe to drink: officials". New York Post. Retrieved December 5, 2019.
  38. ^ Yi, Karen (August 11, 2019). "Lead crisis in Newark leads to distribution of bottled water, after filters fail to safeguard homes with old pipes". Retrieved December 5, 2019.
  39. ^ "New Study Findings About Water Filter Effectiveness". Lead Service Line Replacement Program. City of Newark. Retrieved January 6, 2020.