EAST ORANGE, NJ — The recent revelations from the Newark public schools regarding elevated lead levels in students’ drinking water was a hot topic at the East Orange City Council’s regular meeting Monday, March 14.
“I heard you talking about water and it made me nervous, because I saw Steve Harvey’s show today on Flint, Mich., and it’s really bad,” said resident Barbara Jackson on Monday, March 14. “I have never (drunk) East Orange water, but everybody can’t say that. Don’t mess with the kids.”
Jackson went on to ask the council if they could get the mayor and Water Commission to check the water. She said, “I heard that there are problems in Newark with lead in their water, too.”
East Orange resident Almeda Walker said she had heard the same thing, and wondered if East Orange might have a problem with lead in its water, too, since the city has been buying water from Newark for years to supplement its own supply from the artesian wells operated by the East Orange Water Commission.
“The problem with the water is, we’re buying Newark water,” said Walker on Monday, March 14. “I know we’re still buying Newark water and it’s questionable as to the quality of the water we’re buying. We need to know what the plan is going to be.”
Fourth Ward Councilwoman Tyshammie Cooper responded, “In light of what happened in Newark, I think we should test the water for lead levels. Unlike some people, I do drink tap water.” She said the city and the East Orange Water Commission should make sure the quality and safety of the water coming out of taps throughout East Orange is the best it can be.
First Ward Councilman Chris James, chairman of the council’s Public Works Committee, said no one in the city should be worried about elevated lead levels in East Orange’s water supply.
“The Department of Environmental Protection does do water checks,” said James at the meeting. “There’s not lead detectable in our system.”
City Council Chairman Ted Green asked if it would be possible to “ask East Orange Water Commission Executive Director Chris Coke if we can have tests so we can reassure our residents.”
But 2nd Ward Councilman Romal Bullock said it’s probably not necessary to get the local water utility to do a lead level test in response to the reported problems with Newark’s water supply.
“I understand the issue in the Newark schools has more to do with the pipes than the water supply,” said Bullock. “I know a lot of our schools are new, but I think we should check the pipes because some of them are old. It’s really an issue that the water in Newark is good, but the pipes are the problem.”
Fifth Ward Councilwoman Alicia Holman agreed with Bullock: “The problem with the water in Newark is not the water, it’s the pipes. Once it goes through the pipes, it’s contaminated.”
“Our water is fine,” said Holman, who is chairwoman of the council’s Public Safety Committee, on Monday, March 14. “But we do need to check on the piping in our older buildings.”
5th Ward Councilman Mustafa Brent was a member of the East Orange Board of Education, prior to being elected to the City Council, and currently serves on the Public Works Committee along with James, Johnson and 4th Ward Councilman Casim Gomez. He said he has some knowledge of the workings of the East Orange Water Commission and the water supply of the East Orange public schools, and whether it is safe.
“In an effort to be as pre-emptive as we can, our water is being tested and we should get the results in the next few days,” said Brent on Monday, March 14. “We’re working as diligently as we can. We want to make sure that we are as proactive as possible, when it comes to the things that everybody needs to live a life of vitality and substance.”
First Ward Councilwoman Amy Lewis said she is also concerned about possible elevated lead levels in the city’s water supply, but said there are other issues related to the city’s water supply that should not be overlooked.
“Legionnaire’s disease and testing for that, too, as far as the water goes, is a concern,” said Lewis on Monday, March 14.