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Beyond lead: High levels of cancer-causing chemicals found in Newark’s water, as well as in supply of nearby towns

NEWARK -- High levels of haleoacetic acids — chemicals used to disinfect water — are flowing through Newark's taps.

A lot of exposure to these chemicals in drinking water can cause cancer, according to the federal government.

Newark's system does supply water to other municipalities, including: Belleville, Bloomfield, East Orange, South Orange, Nutley, Liberty, Raritan and Pequannock.

Newark is already distributing free water filters to its own residents, after high levels of lead were found in 2017 and 2018. The city commissioned a study earlier this year to find out why the city's water treatment was no longer working.

"The corrosion control method being used has not been effective," Newark Mayor Ras Baraka told reporters in October.

The maximum-allowable level of haleoacetic acids in drinking water is 60 parts per billion, according to the federal government. Newark’s annual average has skewed as high as 81 parts per billion.

This compounds Newark's lead-in-water issue, for which the city is already facing a lawsuit.

Yvette Jordan, a Newark school teacher and a long-time resident, had her faucets tested for lead this summer.

"Our water here in my home is almost  three times above the federal threshold," she said. "So that is an extreme area of concern for me and my husband."

Jordan and her husband will only use filtered water to brush their teeth, cook and drink.

However, as an educator, a big concern for Jordan is her students.

"Some of them said ‘well I know our water isn't OK. I said, so what are you doing about it? 'Oh it will be alright.' Other students are saying, 'no I use only filtered water'. So it's like some are are doing it, most are not," Jordan said.

Jordan is part of a lawsuit against the city that’s being spearheaded by the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Jordan wants to see the city educate its residents so everyone can take precautions.

Right now, the city does have a website to inform residents about lead in water, how they can get testing done and a city program to help replace lead service lines.

But the options available to residents have been rife with confusion.

Jordan said when she first called to have her water tested by the city, they informed her she'd have to pay $300 for the service, even though city officials have promised free water testing for all.

Today, when asked about the issue of high levels of haleoacetic acid, Newark's mayor failed to address this issue and instead defended the city's efforts on lead as more aggressive than any other city.

He also puts some blame for high lead levels on homeowners or private property owners — who are responsible for replacing lead service lines from the street to their structure.

“The city wants every lead service line in the city replaced in the next eight years,” Baraka said. “Even though Newark does not own those lines, it has secured funding to help residents pay for the replacements. The process of getting the work done is underway.”

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