Newark Temporarily Pauses Handing Out Bottled Water as City Continues to Deal With Elevated Lead Levels

Bottled water distribution resumed Tuesday after an hours-long pause as the city announced it was awaiting a water shipment from the state after initial shipment had a 'best by' date that was past due

What to Know

  • Newark said it temporarily paused handing out emergency bottled water Tuesday as they await "a new shipment of water from the State of NJ
  • The city is scheduled to return distributing the bottled water around 3 p.m. Tuesday
  • High lead levels were found in homes where city-issued filters were distributed months ago as part of ongoing effort to combat contamination

As Newark, New Jersey, residents find themselves grappling with elevated lead levels in certain homes despite city-issued filters being distributed months ago, the city announced it has temporarily paused handing out emergency bottled water Tuesday as they await "a new shipment of water from the State of New Jersey" after the water bottles it was initially received had a "best by" date that was past due, city officials said.

The city temporarily halted handouts of the bottled water for a few hours, with distribution resuming Tuesday afternoon after new cases of bottled water were delivered by the state.

"The water that the City received had a best by date that was past due. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has determined that there is no limit to the shelf life of bottled water as long as it is properly produced and unopened. The FDA does not require an expiration date bottled water, and some companies use best by dates to manage stock rotation. Out of an abundance of caution, the City and the State have coordinated for a shipment of new water," Crystal Rosa, spokesperson for the city, told NBC 4 New York. 

In a letter sent to Newark, the state's Department of Health also contends that the FDA has determined there is no limit to the shelf life of bottled water if it is produced properly and unopened and therefore does not require an expiration date. Due to this, the DOH said that they "believe that the water is safe to drink."

Alyana Alfaro Post, the press secretary for Gov. Phil Murphy's office, said that the state is providing water from its emergency stockpile to Newark. 

According to Post, the state precures the water bottles through a private vendor. Initially, 20,000 cases were supplied to the city. Those cases had a "best by" date of May 2019.

"Although safe to drink, the State will be replacing the original 20,000 cases with new water, and also ordered 50,000 additional cases that are being shipped to Newark and should arrive this afternoon," Post said.

Residents began picking up bottled water in Newark on Monday, days after elevated lead levels were found in homes where city-issued filters had been distributed months ago as part of an ongoing effort to combat contamination.

Newark has given thousands of filters to residents in homes with lead service lines. But the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said recent tests showed drinking water in a few locations was still testing high for lead despite the filters.

"Until additional testing is completed and out of an abundance of caution, bottled water will be provided by the State of New Jersey," the city said.

Water will continue to be made available at four locations Tuesday: The City of Newark Department of Health and Wellness, 110 William St.; Bo Porter Sports Complex, 378 Lyons Ave.; Boylan Street Recreation Center, 916 South Orange Ave.; and Vince Lombardi Center, 201 Bloomfield Ave.

The water distribution process, which started Monday, was successful for some people, not so much for others.

Emmett Coleman, a senior citizen who said he is a heart transplant recipient, said he waited an hour for his two cases of water. He lugged them down the stairs and began to carry them up the street to his car before a worker came out to help him.

"In the senior building it's bad," he said. "All of us are sick or have problems, and we can't drink the water. And the filters aren't working."

Jessica Souffront went to the same office to get water but was told she didn't qualify and received a filter instead. Another woman said she became exasperated waiting for office staff to find her name on a list and left to buy water at the supermarket.

In a letter Friday to Newark Mayor Ras Baraka and New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Catherine McCabe, the EPA said tests on two homes using the filters "suggest that use of the specific filtration devices distributed by Newark may not be reliably effective" in reducing lead levels.

The EPA urged the city to advise residents to use bottled water for drinking and cooking. In a joint statement issued Sunday, Baraka and Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy cautioned that the city and state would "need support and assistance from the federal government."

An environmental group sued the city last year, alleging Newark's water has dangerously high lead levels and that the city has failed to conduct adequate monitoring over the years. The suit is pending in federal court.

As part of the lawsuit, the Natural Resources Defense Council has sought a court order to force the city to go door-to-door to instruct residents on how to use the filters, Improper installation and use of the filters may be contributing to continued high lead levels, Erik Olson, an NRDC drinking water expert, said Monday.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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