Newark lead levels in water meet federal standards for first time since 2017

NEWARK, New Jersey (WABC) -- Newark officials have announced that average lead levels in the city's water have fallen into a range compliant with national safety regulations.

Newark Mayor Ras Baraka made the announcement on Thursday, saying that lead levels in the city have fallen below 15 parts per billion, which is underneath the federal benchmark of acceptable levels.

Officials say the city's latest test results show lead levels at 14.1 ppb, which is beneath the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's allowable trace lead exposure.

"This moment is what we've been working toward, a moment when we can say our water is in compliance with lead and copper rule, where the facts speak for themselves," Mayor Baraka said. "These results prove the city of Newark is committed to delivering the purest water possible to our residents and the people of surrounding towns who consume our water."

Newark began to exceed the acceptable lead level threshold back in 2017 when the city's lead service line and anti-corrosion measures began to falter.

In the spring of 2016, Newark officials say they began to experience elevated lead levels especially in several schools.

Testing followed as did a search for a cause. The city found the one permanent solution was replacing nearly 19,000 lead water lines in the city.

The mayor added that the lower trace levels were expected when the city introduced a new corrosion treatment system last year.

That work began last spring, and an Essex County $120 million bond last fall allowed the city to accelerate the work.

"It probably took us two and a half years to do something that would have taken us 10," Baraka said.

The city began introducing orthophosphate into the water system to control corrosion of lead service lines which connected older homes and smaller buildings to the city's system.

Last December, water samples showed a 74 percent drop in lead levels to an average of 17.3 ppb after seven months of the new corrosion control.

Despite the lower levels, Baraka says there is still work to do.

"Of course, the long-term solution is the replacement of all city lead lines, and we are far ahead of schedule in that project, not losing much of a step through the global pandemic," Baraka said. "Once that is completed, we anticipate seeing numbers closer to zero."

Officials say close to 13,000 lines are completed and crews, who have worked steadily through the COVID-19 pandemic, are currently replacing about 75 per day.

"Newark strong. Newark forward. We came together, right?" Water and Utilities Director Kareem Adeem said. "The city residents came together even through the COVID-19 period they cooperated with us."

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