Newark begins replacing lead service lines in front of homes

NEWARK, N.J. — Crews broke ground Wednesday to begin replacing lead service lines in front of homes in Newark.

There are thousands of them buried underground and their removal will take years.

Through this program, the city plans to remove 15,000 lead lines. These pipes on private property are a major reason why the city has struggled with dangerously high levels of lead in the water.

The city broke ground Wednesday in front of her neighbor’s house across the street.

Kristin Burks-Mullings first tried to hire contractors on her own.

“When we asked a couple plumbers how much it would cost, they said $7,000 to $8,000,” she said. “You know, that’s not the number we even expected, and it’s a very high cost.”

Then she found out about the city’s lead service line removal program, and signed up. The city will subsidize the bulk of the cost — limiting a homeowner’s responsibility to a max of $1,000.

“We’re so happy that it finally happened,” said Burks-Mullings. “And we’re very excited about finally having safe water.”

Tests on tap water in Newark have spiked as high as 12-times the federal danger level for lead.

An environmental group, the National Resource Defense Council, sued the city last year. The city responded in part by rolling out free water filters and water testing for residents.

Replacement cartridges for filters are still being distributed today, and the city is currently revamping water treatment at the source to limit exposure at the tap. But a major problem is the thousands of lead pipes in homes and on private property.

Under the law, homeowners are responsible for the buried line from the curb to their house.

“Our infrastructure is decaying and these pipes need to be replaced with newer, safer,  more reliable materials. But that’s expensive,” said New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Catherine R. McCabe.

Statewide, the Environmental Protection Agency has estimated replacing all unsafe drinking water infrastructure would cost $8 billion.

With the help of a $12 million state loan, Newark set up a $75 million fund to begin work on Wednesday.

Phase 1 of construction is expected to take one year to complete and it will cover 1,500 homes.

Locations will also be selected based on level of risk, known areas with at-risk populations such as children, minimizing disruption to the existing water system and within funding limitations.

The application period opened to all Newark residents in April 2018.

Phase 2 is anticipated to begin in the third or fourth quarter of 2019.

“As an older, urban community, Newark has outdated lead service lines, and we look forward to modernizing our infrastructure and reducing risk for Newark’s families through the Lead Service Line Replacement Program,” said Newark Mayor Ras Baraka.

Residents can sign up at NewarkLeadServiceLine.com and will be admitted to the program on a first-come, first-served basis.

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