Claims over elevated lead levels in Newark water a ‘naked political stunt,’ mayor says

NEWARK, N.J.  — Claims of elevated lead levels in Newark’s water are being made to help a council member politically,  Mayor Ras Baraka said Thursday.

Council member Chaneyfield Jenkins, who is running for mayor, made a call for action regarding lead in the city’s water supply days after an environmental group filed a notice of its intent to sue Newark over what it says are elevated levels of lead in the city’s drinking water. Baraka called it a political stunt.

“This is nothing more than a naked political stunt to draw attention to her flailing campaign and to cause public panic by creating a false and unnecessary alarm, for her own personal electoral benefit,” Baraka said. “Once residents know the truth about Newark’s water quality, they will be able to see for themselves that Council member Chaneyfield Jenkins is engaging in irresponsible behavior by attempting to spread falsehoods.”

But Jenkins isn’t the only one making claims.

The Natural Resources Defense Council cited a federal report in their notice that said Newark’s lead levels are among the highest in the country over the last three years for systems serving over 50,000 people.

Prolonged exposure in children to low levels of lead has been linked to nervous system damage, learning disabilities and impaired formation of blood cells.

Among the violations of state environmental laws alleged by the NRDC are that Newark has not conducted sufficient testing on sites that are at the most risk for elevated lead levels and has instead focused testing on less at-risk sites.

The NRDC also alleges Newark unlawfully denied its public records requests that sought information about water testing.

With a population of about 280,000, Newark is New Jersey’s largest city.

In a statement, Newark Mayor Ras Baraka called the allegations “outrageously false” and said the water supplied by the city is fully compliant with federal and state regulations.

The city’s testing revealed water in some homes was elevated because those homes likely contained lead service lines, he said. The service lines that connect houses with the city’s water system are the responsibility of homeowners, and Newark has “obtained funding from the State to enable affected homeowners to replace their lines,” Baraka added.

Sara Imperiale, an NRDC staff attorney, said “While the city tries to deny there’s a problem, we want residents to know there are easy steps for people to take to minimize their risk of exposure, including flushing the faucet and using water filters.”