Newark's lead-in-water crisis worsens as calls grow for mayor to step down

NEWARK, New Jersey (WABC) -- Newark's water problems seem to be getting worse, as officials are learning that filters passed out to prevent lead from leaching into drinking water may not be doing the job.

High lead levels in the water were discovered weeks ago, and many residents were given water filters for their taps as the effort to replace water line is underway.

Now that their effectiveness is being called into question, there are growing calls for Mayor Ras Baraka to step down, and New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy visited the city Wednesday to address the crisis.

The city-distributed PUR faucet filters were tested in three homes, and two of those still had lead levels four times higher than the minimum allowed.
EMBED More News Videos

Toni Yates has more on the water situation in Newark.

The sample size is too small to draw conclusions, but it does call into question the effectiveness of the filters. The plan for the next round of testing is still being worked out, Murphy said during a press conference.

The governor is calling for federal help, both for immediate help with bottled water and to help with ongoing infrastructure. He said DEP Commissioner Catherine McCabe will be traveling to Washington to tell the EPA to "step up" their role in the response to the water crisis in Newark.

"Everybody, young and old, big and small, regardless of where you are in the state, in this community, certainly in Newark, in this country, clean water is a right, not a privilege, for everybody," he said.

The governor and mayor say it affects only about 15,000 of the city's 95,000 households.

Amid concerns about lead in water and filters that may not be working, it turns out the bottled water the city handed out as a response was past its best use date of May 30, 2019.

The city temporarily paused water distribution Tuesday while officials waited for a new shipment of water from the state.

The first shipment of water had a best by date that had passed, but the state believed it was still safe to drink. The state replaced those 20,000 cases with new water and ordered 50,000 additional cases.

Before workers started handing out the new bottles of water at 3 p.m. Tuesday, there was already a line of nearly 100 people waiting outside the Boylan Recreation Center.

"This is a slap in the face to the residents of the city of Newark," said resident Donna Jackson. "As you can see everybody is standing in line. We are now in panic mode in this city because the feds had to come in to tell us to stop drinking the water."

The state has been providing water from its emergency stockpile to the City of Newark to distribute to residents. The state procures the water bottles through a private vendor.

Over the weekend, officials announced tests on the water in Newark indicated there were still dangerous levels of lead and residents were urged to avoid drinking tap water.

Senator Cory Booker, former Newark mayor and current presidential candidate, called for federal action in a tweet on Wednesday morning.

"Newark's water emergency demands our federal government's immediate attention. Everyone deserves clean, safe water - it's shameful that our national crisis of lead-contaminated water disproportionately hits poor black and brown communities like my own," he wrote.

Calls for the mayor continued to grow, as residents likened Newark's problems to the crisis in Flint, Michigan.

"Mayor Baraka is worse than the officials in Flint because he knew this," said Donna Jackson, a local activist.

"I have cried about Flint, Michigan. I don't wanna cry about Newark, New Jersey," said Newark resident Sandra Toby-Heath.

Another resident said he doesn't blame the mayor because he said this was a problem long before his administration.

Baraka said he uses a PUR water filter in his home, as does his mother and other members of his family.

He said between 38,000 and 40,000 filters were given out in Newark.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said it's important residents in homes with old lead pipes use bottled water until there is a reliable solution.

The city distributed water filters to 19,000 homes last fall and recently decided to conduct tests on the effectiveness of the filters. The EPA said filters distributed to Newark homes to protect residents from elevated levels of lead may not be working as intended.

The city hosted a virtual town hall on Facebook Live Tuesday night to update people on the lead service lines and water distribution.

New Jersey Assemblyman Jamel Holley, who represents Union County, has started a bottled water collection in several cities to help Newark residents.

The collection will be at the following sites:

First Baptist Church
5 Hilton Ave in Vauxhall, NJ
Wednesday to Friday, 10 am to noon and 2 pm to 4 pm
(Deliveries can be made at the front door with the ramp)

Elizabethport Presbyterian Center
184 First Street
Elizabeth, NJ
Monday to Saturday, 9 am to 7 pm
Contact James Carey 908-576-5089

Head AME Church
310 E 8th Ave
Roselle, NJ
Tuesday to Friday, 10 am to 2 pm
Contact Ricky or Ayesha 908-368-1331

* More New Jersey news
* Send us a news tip
* Download the abc7NY app for breaking news alerts
* Follow us on YouTube
Copyright © 2021 WABC-TV. All Rights Reserved.