Newark Mayor Ras J. Baraka, New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Catherine McCabe and other dignitaries broke ground on Phase 1 of the Lead Service Line Replacement Program Wednesday, March 13, in Newark’s North Ward.

Phase 1 of the Lead Service Line Replacement Program will permanently replace about 1,500 residential lead service lines and is expected to take about one year to complete. The first phase is part of an eight-year, $75 million plan to remove approximately 15,000 lead service lines on private property across Newark.

The Lead Service Line Replacement Program is part of the City’s efforts to modernize Newark’s water infrastructure. In November 2018, reports surfaced cancer causing haloacetic acid was in drinking water in Newark. Critics called the situation a “crisis” and that it mirrors what happened in Flint, Mich.

At the time, Baraka and several officials, including Assistant Director of the Department of Water and Sewer Utilities Kareem Adeem and Director of Health & Community Wellness Dr. Mark Wade, quelled concerns over water safety in Newark.

Baraka pointed out several key differences between Newark and Flint, including the need for corrosion control improvements, Newark’s full compliance with the Environmental Protection Agency and securing money to help people pay to replace their lead lines and plumbing.

In 2016, water in Newark Public Schools was so bad that officials shut the taps off at 30 schools. Alternate water resources were used and officials assured residents that city water was completely safe. However, city Communications Director Frank Baraff recommended not drinking the water at public schools at that time.

The Food and Drug Administration and the Center for Disease Control found that a machine used by many cities to measure blood levels can produce inaccurate results. They recommended that some of the children who were tested with the device be re-tested.

Lead levels in water samples drawn from some homes with lead or copper service lines exceed federal standards.

A year later, the Newark Department of Health and Community Wellness had to re-screen 4,600 children for lead levels.