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Federal judge signals she will not order Newark to distribute water filters to Wanaque water system customers

NEWARK -- A federal judge has signaled that she will side with the city and she will not order Newark to distribute water filters to Wanaque water system customers.

The city of Newark has two separate water systems - the Wanaque and the Pequannock.

The city maintains that Wanaque customers have largely been unaffected by the city's water crisis.

"The water meets the federal rules for safe drinking water," said Eric Klein, an attorney representing the city.

The Pequannock has been an ongoing problem. Efforts to treat thew water so that lead won’t spike - have failed.

The city began distributing 40,000 water filters to residents impacted in October.

But people in the Wanaque system were not targeted with that outreach effort.

"When I went to get a filter following the cities distribution plan, I was rejected," said Shakima Thomas, a Newark resident.

The National Resource Defense Council, a non profit representing residents, filed an emergency motion in federal court to get Wanaque customers water filters. They contest that evidence points to a growing problem with Wanaque's water.

"We need filters in these other areas," said Al Moussab, a resident and plaintiff in the NRDC's lawsuit against the city. "There is a presence of lead and the city data proves it."

The NRDC points to a lead spike in the Wanaque system in 2014 of 19.3 ppb. The federal lead limit for safe drinking water is less than 15 ppb.

The city told a federal judge today that the 19.3 ppb reading in the 2014 Wanaque report was a typo, which sparked laughter and jeers from residents in the courtroom.

Wanaque customers live in the East Ward, some are also in the central and north wards.

The NRDC also pointed to some more recent water samples from select homes in the East Ward that reached as high as 12 times the federal lead limit.

But United States District Judge for the District of New Jersey Esther Salas pointed to how the law doesn’t apply to individual homes and so she cannot rule based on a handful of samples. The federal lead and copper rule is designed to pool samples from dozens of locations to find systemic water problems.

City attorneys stated that any individual home found to have high levels of lead will get a water filter.

They even put on record that anyone who is simply adamant about wanting a filter - can get one.

They stated that the reason the city hasn't distributed water filters to every home in Newark is because resources are limited and they want to be sure those directly impacted receive a filter.

The city so far has not released its results for lead in water testing for the second half of 2018. Newark says it is trying to do its best to catch up to a backlog of requests from residents who want their water tested.

"We have a load of resources available to make sure that everyone who has asked for a test will be tested," said city attorney Kenyatta Stewart.

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