Posted Jan 11, 2020 by Yvette Jordan

By Star-Ledger Guest Columnist: Yvette Jordan

The greatest gift Newark families could have received this past holiday season was safe drinking water. Unfortunately, due to Newark’s sustained, elevated lead levels, water in every part of the city often remains unsafe to drink without a properly installed and maintained water filter. Any level of lead exposure is unsafe.

City and state officials claim they are doing all that can be done to address Newark’s lead crisis, but recent test results revealed that thousands of households may not be protected because of problems with the installation, use, or maintenance of filters by residents.

As a public high school teacher, I know that education is critical. Until the city takes strong and effective action to meet federal water standards, all Newark residents should take steps to minimize their exposure to lead. Here’s how you can do that:

Use only cold tap water for drinking

  • Warm or hot water is more likely to contain elevated levels of lead. Also, do not boil your drinking water unless there is a temporary boil-water advisory — boiling water can concentrate the lead content.

Choose and maintain your water filter carefully

  • Install and use water filters that are certified to remove lead by NSF International (labeled as meeting “NSF/ANSI Standard 53” for lead removal). For a review of how to install and operate a city-distributed PUR faucet filter see here (or here for information on pitcher filters); for information on additional filters that reduce lead levels, see here.
  • Also, be sure to change the filter cartridges regularly, in accordance with manufacturers’ instructions. For example, the PUR faucet filters are supposed to have their cartridge changed after every 100 gallons or 3 months, and PUR pitcher filter cartridges are only good for 40 gallons or at most 2 months.

Note: residents should also be aware that filters are not expected to reduce lead to safe levels in homes where lead levels in drinking water exceed 150 parts per billion.

Flush your water line (even if you have a filter)

  • The city advises that if you haven’t used your water for several hours, residents should let water run for a full 5 minutes while the filter is in the “off” position. Flushing pushes lead -contaminated water through your pipes and seems to be effective in reducing levels of lead in drinking water.

Maintain your faucet aerators, too

  • Remove and clean individual faucet aerators, as lead particles and sediment can collect in the aerator screen.

Protect growing bodies:

  • To the extent possible, use only filtered or bottled water to prepare baby formula and food. Children and pregnant or nursing women should also use filtered or bottled water for drinking and cooking. Further, parents should consider having their children tested for lead exposure by a doctor or pediatrician. Lead-contaminated water is a scourge on Newark families. A study of water filter usage in August/September showed about 25% of the filters used by families may not have been installed or maintained properly by residents.

It is imperative that more aggressive education and action be taken by the city, including door-to-door education and ongoing assistance to test for lead and to help people use and maintain filters. You can also request that the city visit your house to check on the proper use and installation of your filters. But until that happens, you are on your own.

Water is life. Let’s help each other stay safe, and keep our children protected from lead-contaminated drinking water by correctly using and maintaining filters.

Yvette Jordan is a member of NEW Caucus, a group of public school teachers that have filed a federal lawsuit against Newark and New Jersey state officials for violating the Safe Drinking Water Act. Jordan and her husband live in Newark.

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