By Omar Keita
The entire nation has been exposed to the water crisis in Flint, Michigan and what it has caused in the city. However, in the past few months it has been discovered that water in schools and other major facilities in Newark, New Jersey have been contaminated with large amounts of lead. Although many environmentalists say this problem could have and should have been confronted a long time ago.
While Newark seems to be the city that is most affected by lead contamination, smaller amounts have been found in water in Morristown and other communities, as well as at the Passaic Valley Water Commission, which provides water to towns across five New Jersey counties. This water crisis reveals a huge risk that could affect a large amount of people. It also shows that health departments need to raise their standards and have better testing to prevent possible huge outbreaks from happening.
What makes this even more unsettling is that most of the contamination was inside Newark schools, so it could have potentially put a large amount of children at risk.
The water crisis in Newark is not nearly as bad as the one in Flint, Michigan. However, it was definitely a “wakeup call” to a growing public health issue in New Jersey, said Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. Tittel has previously brought up many of the health problems that have been affecting the state and has constantly been critical of the public health system and what it has been failing to do.
"We need to do a better job of testing throughout the state and fixing these problems. We can't allow our children to be put at risk," Tittel said to Dan Ivers of NJ.com. "While the governor acts like it isn't a serious issue, we're seeing school children and hospital patients being exposed to a dangerous neurotoxin."
Tittel brought up a very good point, and health officials know that they must do a better job. But at the same time, they are down playing the problem and trying to lower concerns about the lead levels in the water by telling citizens that the only reason for the lead contamination is because of aging buildings and compared to Flint, lead levels are not nearly as high and dangerous as in Michigan.
No Safe Level of Lead
But according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there is no safe lead level for children. Even at the lowest possible levels, there are signs that show any consumption of lead can affect a child’s intelligence, as well as the ability to pay attention and achieve academic success.
In order to make sure that the levels of lead are not toxic and harmful, Newark public schools shut off their fountains to prevent kids from consuming the contaminated water, and they have been drinking from water bottles for the time being. Yet after all the testing and the caution that has been put on the water, health experts have stated that although there has been lead found in the water supply, it is not likely that the lead levels will cause any serious harm to the kids.
The word has been put out about water inside Newark public schools being contaminated with lead. Now it is time for the Health Department to take action and do what is necessary to get rid of the water contamination problem before it gets any worse and spreads throughout the city.
Billion dollar Tag to Fix City Water System
However, the process of removing the lead from the water may be a difficult and very expensive task. To jumpstart the renovation of the Newark water system, Mayor Ras Baraka met with other city officials including Grace Spencer, the city's Assemblywoman, recently to discuss how to gain support for a possible bill that would create a 10-cent bottle deposit in the state, according to NJ.com. The proceeds from each bottle would be put towards the funding to update the outdated water systems. Estimating the total costs of repairing the entire city water system, including old pipes, water mains as well as sewer overflows, would come to more than $1 billion.
"It's a huge undertaking to just deal with the water systems in the schools, and then the infrastructure problems that we have as a city would be huge of course," Mayor Baraka stated. "We don't have the money and the resources to do that." For that reason the process of rejuvenating Newark’s water system may be even more elongated.
If not already, more people will soon have the fear of using the water in their own homes, just for the sake of not being poisoned by the water contaminated with lead. Andrea Adebowale, the city's water and sewer director, tried to make it clear to residents that water at the majority of areas around the city have been tested this past year, and most of the test samples came back with lead levels well below those considered to be dangerous.
The federal Environmental Protection Agency requires those tests to be performed every three years, but due to the recent scares and warnings that have been made about the water in the city, officials are planning to do them on a six-month basis instead to reassure the safety to the city’s residents.
Omar Keita is a senior at Ramapo College of New Jersey pursuing a Communications degree. He enjoys writing and is very interested in learning about the environment and exploring new ways to make the world around him a better place.