Still not safe to drink

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A lot of you are about to enjoy a long weekend labor day here in the united states lay board day up in canada. If you like labor day deal stitcher would like to offer you thirty percent off stitcher premium. You get a whole lot of ad free shows including this one plus bonus episodes from some of your favorite shows and comedy albums to listen listen to if you're interested go to stitcher premium dot com slash labor day and use the code l. a. b. o. r. d. a. y. Labor day for thirty percents off your subscription <music> welcome to the two thousand nine hundred as my name is sebastian maniscalco and i'm going to be your host tonight. Aw thank you so much. This is my first war ever own right now. Jordan taylor swift everyone. You're nominated twelve all times to make how does that feel. It feels great. Just a minute ago. A bunch of protests are just came down rushing toward the prudential center on edison avenue. You could see if you take a look behind me. In most of these protesters testers are residents here in newark who are trying to call out the city right now for holding the a._m._a.'s instead of cancelling the b._n._a.'s in wake of the going carrying ye. You've been covering the newark water crisis in the star ledger. What's behind these protests. We saw this week week. The lead crisis has gone a lot of attention recently but really this problem dates back to twenty sixteen when levels began to spike in the public school system annual water contamination tests set newark's public schools were conducted between december and february newark school planning to seek the consent of parents of students to conduct blood testing for lead into thirty schools with elevated levels on tuesday on wednesday. The district turned turned off water at thirty schools after results revealed unsafe lead levels and they shut off about four hundred sources of drinking water and they pass asked out bottled water to children who were thirsty short answer the mayor's call and delivered more than thirty thousand bottles of water after the city cut off the drinking water at thirty effect at schools and this this came at a time right after flint so at that point there was a lot of alarm over whether this could be another flint but the district at the time move pretty quickly to replace all all of the old let plumbing in the schools avenue filtration systems and implement a more robust sampling plan so they know whether this continue to be a problem did they find out what the source of the lead was in the schools officials at the time said that this was an indoor plumbing problem. The lead was coming from old awards. Lead solder oils lead faucets old led fixtures and those were subsequently replaced so it sounds like it's still limited problem at this point in two thousand sixteen right fast fast forward to two thousand seventeen. That's when we started seeing lead levels citywide prior to two thousand seventeen newark was on a three year testing cycle so they basically had to sample fifty homes every three years as a twenty seventeen they had to sample a hundred homes every six months and the first time that the sampling we saw big nick problem more than ten percent of the sampled homes were above the federal limit for light which fifteen parts per billion. How bad is that as anything less than that okay. This is just a bar set by the government. That says you know if certain percentages of your samples are over this threshold. You have to take action but there's no safe level of lead for consumption at all. I mean it has affects primarily on children pregnant women when it comes to cognition when it comes to development lead lead is in the water lead can be in paint. Let could be in dust. It's in multiple different areas and children can be exposed in multiple different ways <hes> so in june two thousand seventeen they they have these sort of alarming citywide results what came from that announcement what happened next at that point. The city issued an alert and a ah announced that they were starting a program to replace the source of the lead which is these lead pipes that are snaking underground so is that where the leads been coming from. I'm not the actual source water pipes lead is coming from the infrastructure newark gets its water from different reservoirs ores in the state and that gets treated and pumped through a distribution system so the lead is coming from these pipes called lead service lines which are the size of a garden hose and they basically connect individual homes to underground water mains water mains are kind of the big pipes that run in the middle of of residential streets so these lead service lines are the connector to each individual home to pump water and in newark. There's about thirty six thousand service lines and about eighteen gene thousand of those are made of lead. There's a ton of lead piping under newark. How is it only a problem now so there's as a treatment called corrosion control and this is basically a set of chemicals that gets pumped into the water as it flows through the distribution system. It's supposed to react with the lead in these pipes to create a crust like a protective barrier to keep that lead from dissolving into the water and so when that failed you essentially having corrosive highly acidic water flowing through these pipes causing the lead to dissolve into the water and come out of the tap yep so it's a twofold problem like an infrastructure problem and then a failure of treatment problem. I see so if you have lead pipes. It's not necessarily the -sarily a problem if this corrosion control system keeps working ideally no right. I mean if a water treatment plant is operating as it should you have to protect against you old infrastructure and led the could be leaching from these old pipes. Do we know when this treatment system stopped working or why it stopped working. The city hired an outside engineering nearing company that drafted an extensive study looking at this and all that report could tell us is the treatment failed sometime before two thousand seventeen which is when we saw the lead levels spiked as to what caused the treatment to stop working sometime around twenty twelve there was a new rule meant to prevent possible carcinogens indigenes from being in the water and to meet this rule this treatment plant that we're talking about the pokorny treatment plant lowered the ph of the water and in making the water more acidic take the water became more corrosive and rendered this corrosion control treatment less effective over time wow so they were trying to solve another problem than in created this exactly that's called simultaneous compliance or trying to comply with a medley of everchanging standards and rules and so it seems like in an effort to prevent possible carcinogens from being in the water they lowered the ph rendering the cruise control treatment less effective over time. Okay i feel like i have a solid understanding of how these pipes hypes work now. So let's jump back into the time line twenty sixteen we see let in the water and some schools two thousand seventeen we start seeing lead levels citywide and then twenty eighteen is when the n._r._d._c. gets involved is that right yes the natural resources defense council and they are our water advocacy group and they sued in flint a few years back and successfully won their lawsuit and they came to newark and started making a lot of public records request to find out how about are the lead levels roles. What's been the city's response and from what they found. They weren't satisfied. Eventually they ended up suing the city in federal court in june two thousand eighteen. The lawsuit claims claim state officials ignored federal law when they fell to treat drinking water for corrosion leading to dangerously high levels of lead and lawsuit is still ongoing and what was supposed to happen with the water in the meantime the city handed out these three nine thousand filters and that was supposed to be the short term fix while the changes treatment and made a better and while the city also so dug up these old pipes and replace them with copper pipes today the mayor announced corrosion control system is no longer effective and home filtration systems are needed study showed that corozzo control presently being used <hes> has not been effective in various parts of the north ward parts parts of south ward the west ward and essential war the treatment process can take up to a year to get remedied and then the replacing all the pipes was supposed to take eight years to a decade okay to get remedied so in the meantime they said look use filters but what happened in august is that three homes were sampled post filtration so this means that the water water went through the filter which are nationally certified and when they tested that water to water filters came back where to lead was not reduced to a level that we were comfortable comfortable with these are filters that have been used across the country they've been used in flint and have been found around to appropriately and effectively remove lead and make the water safe to drink and they weren't doing that here. Newark they were removing lead but they just weren't not removing lead at the levels that they should have that prompted the e._p._a. To get involved really say to newark like you have to provide an alternate source of drinking water until we figure out what is wrong with these filters that prompted the roll out of seventy thousand cases of water to affected residents from brushing teeth to cleaning produce to cooking. Almost everything is done with bottled water. August ninth is when the e._p._a. Sends a letter to the city saying we're. We're recommending strongly that you distribute bottled water by that monday august twelfth. The city rolled out its plants distribute bottled water by tuesday. We find out that i bet this bottled water which had been provided by the state from their emergency. Supply was past its best by day and the water bottle distribution was halted residents. It's headlined up at several locations to pick up the water provided by the state but we're frustrated by the latest headache water doesn't expire but for residents that better frustrated that aren't really sure what to believe to read this on the bottle that it's it's passed its best buy the best day was made twenty nineteen. It just raised raise more concerns and and more fear about whether they drink this water. The water problem in newark is getting real bad almost like point mentioning may have a rocket raka is worse than the officials in flint because he knew this. It makes me feel angry. It's a situation that wasn't control before it got. This bad water is right water. Water is a human right a new batch seventy thousand more cases of bottled water rolled into the city tuesday night and you know the distribution resumed in a lot of people people were saying you know this is this has been going on for three years. We've been hearing about letting the water in the city since two thousand seventeen. Why are we getting bottled water right now. Mm-hmm what's been the response from newark mayor ras baraka recently. The mayor has been trying to assure residents that the waters i have led that they're not flint and that the city is moving as quickly as possible to fix the problem. I will control the hitter stopped working. We didn't purposefully take get out of the water so to make a comparison is not only disingenuous to me is almost insulting and is mayor baraka right is what's. It's happening in newark different from what happened in flint in meaningful ways. I think there are some differences but i think there are some similarities one of the things that the mayor likes highlight as a as the difference is that in flint they switched their source of water to save costs and they didn't treat that water properly in newark. The water source has always always remained the same. It's reservoir water. That's never changed and the treatment to the corrosion. Treatment has also stayed the same. It just stopped working because ph levels were changed but flint anouar both predominantly black and brown cities. We see similar infrastructure problems. Newark won't be the last city to have a lead problem. There are other cities in the state that have elevated levels in the water and several cities across the country that have these very same lead service service lines so then do you expect to see this and other cities and towns in the future that's unclear. I think newark and flint are forcing a lot of towns to reckon with the infrastructure to take a look at you know do they have lead service lines to even have an inventory. I mean a lot of towns that by newark water don't know if they have have lead service lines or copper lines like a lot of these records are old does not clear if it's reliable a big problem is that in a lot of these towns these service lines are privately the own their own by homeowners so it's a question of who should pay and how are we going to pay for it but you know some homes in newark have elevated levels but don't have a lead service lines so that could mean that the water is corroding lead faucets lead solder other lead components in your home that you may or may you not know about that. You may have to get you know inspected but that's really on the homeowner right. That's not necessarily something. The city can do so what's the latest update are are they just in wait and see mode using questionable filters and drinking bottled water. There was a big announcement in the city on monday. That actually significantly expedited one of the long term fixes potential light at the end of the tunnel for newark residents who are impacted by the crisis of lead in their water newark. Mayor ras baraka made a major announcement about the issue we actually announced as we said earlier one hundred twenty eighty million dollar investment made possible by essex county improvement authority to expedite the modernization of newark's drinking water and infrastructure at no cost to affected homeowners. One of the fixes here is to get rid of the source of the problem which is these old lead pipes dig them up out of the ground and replace it with copper and and the city had a plan to do that for seventy five million dollars but it was gonna take eight years and with additional funding from the county where newark resides they were able to get one hundred twenty million dollar loan and they're going to be able to get that money upfront and what that's going to be able to do is it's going to allow the city to more quickly. Replace these service lines so that narrows down the window to three years so citywide there should no longer be lead service lines in the next three years and the city is also rolling out its new treatment plans new corrosion rosen plan that <hes> those new chemicals have been added to the water since may and that's gonna take six months eight months up to a year to be effective and over the the next six to eight months while the new chemicals are taking effect. What are residents supposed to do. That's to be determined so we know that the sampling plan that the state and the city of doing to figure out what is wrong if anything with these filters is going to take two weeks. We're not really sure what's going to happen after the city and the state figure out what's happening with the there's a lot of that will depend on the answer and so for the next two weeks we know residents are going to have to rely on bottled water <music> and have you spoken to anyone in newark. That's had to deal with this that stands out in your mind. Yes i spoke to one mom last week and i think her story is really indicative of this whole journey that we've seen the city go through i mean her son is ten years old now. He he has elevated lead levels in his blood and his former school was one of the elementary schools that had its drinking water shut off in two thousand sixteen because there was elevated lead levels in the building his home where he lives with his mother has lead paint and the home also has led service line. Is there any way to know how that might abducting her child. She told me that her son has learned disability and she's noticed that he's regressed in the last couple of years. He has elevated blood lead levels but it's really hard to say well. It came from the paint. It came from the school that came from the water because it's hard to know how or when that child absorbed the contaminant another mom that i've spoken to her child was also tested and had elevated levels in his blood but she had her home home inspected by the city and she does not have let service line so that raises the question of where is this coming from and what the solution to that is yeah. That's really tough. If you can't even trace back the source of the contaminant that you're finding your child's blood. How do you go about trying to solve this problem right and and she doesn't have a let service line. Her line is not going to be changed. I think at this point she's relying on bottled water and waiting for the city's new treatment to take effect and hopefully hopefully that will reduce levels coming out of her tab and in terms of sort of repairing that trust. Is there anything that we've learned from what happened in flint about about when people will start to believe that their water is safe to drink again. That's a really big question <hes> for the city and for the future of newark's newark's water. I'm not sure i think in flint. We've seen some reports where people don't trust the water and i don't know when they will <music>. We're starting to see a little bit of that in newark where residents aren't really sure who to believe and this as trying trying to put out information but there's so much of a national spotlight right now on the city of newark and at this point it's a little bit late right given event of the messaging that the city has put out in the past. It's sort of hard to go back so i. I don't know i don't know where that's gonna. Leave the city in terms of will the residents be able to trust this water in the future. I mean the water treatment will be fixed. The lead pipes will be fixed. I don't know if you could say the same thing about public. Trust in the water mm-hmm hearing ye is the newark reporter for nj advanced media work also appears in the star ledger. We reached out to the newark mayor's office but they hadn't hadn't gotten back to us with a comment on this story by publishing time. I'm john fong filling in for sean ramos firm while he's on vacation. This is today explained <music>. 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