NEWARK, NJ – It’s going to cost $70 million to fix Newark’s corroding lead service lines. And according to Newark Mayor Ras Baraka, it’s only fair that the federal government foots some of the bill.

Earlier this week, Baraka sent a letter to President Donald Trump in the wake of his highly watched “border wall” speech to the nation. During his speech, Trump insisted that building a wall would help combat what he called a national security crisis, a stance that many experts have questioned.

In his letter, Baraka implored Trump to give up the idea of building a $5 billion wall and instead put the money to work solving a more pressing need… fixing the nation’s ailing, aging water infrastructure.

Mayor Baraka's PSA on Lead in Drinking Water
Ras Baraka on clean water – Local Records Office

According to Newark’s mayor, New Jersey’s largest city is only one of several across the nation finally forced to confront mounting issues with their drinking water, particularly lead contamination.

In October 2018, Newark officials kicked off a massive effort to distribute thousands of lead water filters to residents and conduct water testing after a study revealed that corrosion control is “no longer effective” in some parts of the city’s water network.

Municipal workers and community groups went door-to-door and handed out free filters to residents of homes with lead service lines, the suspected source of the issue. There are at least 15,000 homes with lead services lines in Newark, the New Jersey Sierra Club estimated.

Newark is hardly alone in its struggle, its mayor pointed out. More than 20 other New Jersey cities and towns have elevated levels of lead in their tap water, and so do thousands of municipalities across the nation, Baraka wrote to Trump.

Looking for a common link among the affected cities? They’re mainly “older black and brown cities with limited resources,” Baraka said.

And as such – if you value environmental justice – it’s only fair that the federal government helps cities recover, Baraka implored the president.

“In the short term, we are distributing 40,000 water filters and cartridges to affected homes in Newark. We are also changing our corrosion control system. But, the only real solution to save this and future generations of children is to replace lead service lines. It will cost an estimated $70 million to replace the lead service lines in Newark, hundreds of millions more to replace them in New Jersey, and an estimated $35 billion to replace all of the lead service lines in America. Achieving this is possible only with financial help from the federal government.”

Newark’s mayor concluded his letter to the president with a reference to his southern border speech:

“You have been saying that a border wall will save thousands of American lives, but that’s simply not true, instead of wasting billions of dollars to keep an ill-conceived campaign promise, I urge you to use our resources in a way that will truly save American lives – help repair our nation’s deteriorated water infrastructure.”

After city officials began handing out thousands of water filters to affected residents, Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club, said that bringing in filters is only a stopgap measure.

“Just like bringing in bottled water into Camden, the Brita Filter Poland Spring solution does not work long-term,” Tittel said.

“There is a crisis to Newark’s water system and people’s health is at risk,” Tittel added. “Newark and the state of New Jersey need to move quickly to find a permanent solution to protect drinking water in homes and schools from lead.”

In June of 2018, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) filed a safe drinking water lawsuit with the Newark Education Workers (NEW Caucus) against the city, accusing officials of dragging their feet when it comes to cleaning up lead in the water.

How to Test Your Water for Lead
How to test your water for lead (VIDEO)