Newark Mayor Ras Baraka, pictured at a campaign rally in 2021, revealed the lead pipe problem after the city inadvertently broadcast part of the city council's closed-door session. (Danielle Heminghaus for New Jersey Monitor)
Newark Mayor Ras Baraka and Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Shawn LaTourette urged residents to remain confident in the city’s water supply after announcing Newark had found lead components in some of its water pipes last month.
During a press call Tuesday afternoon, the two said city officials learned some water pipes were only partially replaced — instead of fully replaced as state law requires — and ordered an audit, which found traces of lead in three of four homes tested. The full scope of the problem remains unclear.
“We do not know the exact confines yet,” LaTourette said during the call. “Our initial investigation is being undertaken with respect to a small number of properties.”
The commissioner said that investigation could expand, noting officials already had replaced pipes in the three homes where lead was found. The audit is expected to continue for several weeks, LaTourette said.
In 2016, state and federal authorities reported elevated lead levels in multiple Newark schools and ordered the city to begin providing bottled water to residents in 2019, the same year it set upon an ambitious plan to replace all of its lead service lines.
Those replacements were largely complete by the fall of 2021, and Baraka said the program has replaced roughly 23,000 lead pipes to date.
“We were completely done. To say that now makes that statement not true based on what we just saw,” Baraka said, adding he was “confident that the folks who did the work did it correctly, most of them.”
Officials declined to name the third party — or parties — responsible for the leftover lead, even in vague terms, citing the state’s ongoing investigation. LaTourette did not rule out referring the matter to authorities for criminal prosecution.
The two officials stressed that Newark’s water quality had greatly rebounded from its water crisis. They said the city had made improvements over its control of corrosion in water pipes.
“I can’t emphasize enough that this is not a cause for panic,” LaTourette said. “The DEP and the City of Newark will do their job to ensure that we conduct the audit and make sure that all lead service lines that are to be replaced in full have, in fact, been replaced in full.”
Baraka said the city had planned to begin informing residents about the lead later this week. But the announcement came earlier than anticipated after Newark inadvertently broadcast part of its council’s executive session, during which Baraka told local officials the city had found lead in some pipes.
The New Jersey Globe first reported the mayor’s comments in executive session.
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