Newark tackles lead pipe crisis head-on, by cutting red tape and gaining public trust

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Thursday, April 20, 2023
Newark tackles lead pipe crisis head-on, replaced 24,000 water lines
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We got an in-depth look at how Newark addressed its water crisis by replacing thousands of lead pipes in just over two years. Anthony Johnson has the story.

NEWARK, New Jersey (WABC) -- Earth Day is this Saturday and all month, Eyewitness News and ABC News have been looking at stories affecting our planet.

On Thursday, we got an in-depth look at how New Jersey's largest city addressed its water crisis by replacing thousands of lead pipes in just over two years.

Newark was facing a crisis when the lead levels in the drinking water exceed government limits caused by old, hazardous water lines neglected for years.

"The investment in water and wastewater has diminished since the 1970s," Newark Water Director Kareem Adeen said.

State, county and local leaders put together the $195 million to get the job done, but they ran into a snag.

The city would have to get permission from property owners to get the work done, which would be a tedious, time-consuming task in a city filled with rentals.

But Adeen found a way to expedite the process by cutting government red tape.

"Lead is a public health issue," Adeen said. "We acknowledge that and by it being a public health issue we were able to pass an ordinance that gave us the right of entry and didn't need the owner's house to come into the property."

The city quickly built public trust by keeping residents informed every step of the way.

"They're stakeholders and the more we brought them into the process, our block-by-block approach became very successful," Adeen said.

The initial timeline to complete the project was 15 years, but with community support and access, things moved rapidly.

Before COVID, crews replaced 120 lead lines per day, after COVID hit they kept working at a safe pace and successfully replaced nearly 24,000 led lines in 30 months.

Adeen started his career with the city filling potholes in the early 90s and has become meticulous about keeping Newark's water safe and running.

He studied maps from the 19th century to locate old lines and had every map made accessible digitally. The combination of old and new maps helped the city plan out an effective solution to the city's led problem.

Adeen noted solutions to water issues in the country take investment like the infrastructure bill passed by Congress, but said more is needed otherwise the future of our precious water resource could be bleak.

"The Society of Civil Engineers gave us a 'D' grade when it comes to water, we're in the richest country in the world," Adeen said. "The real cost of water, we need to talk about it."

To learn more about the battle to create safe drinking water in the U.S. tune in this Saturday for "Our America: Trouble on Tap."

The three-part series was produced in partnership with ABC News and National Geographic to raise awareness about access to safe drinking water in the U.S.

The first episode airs at 1 p.m., on Channel 7 and streaming on ABC7NY.

RELATED | Our America: Trouble On Tap | Official Trailer


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