Protesters In New Jersey Draw Attention To Lead In Newark's Drinking Water Many Newark residents are relying on bottled water, as city leaders struggle to address the crisis. Protests happened against the backdrop of MTV's Video Music Awards, which were held in New Jersey.
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Protesters In New Jersey Draw Attention To Lead In Newark's Drinking Water

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Protesters In New Jersey Draw Attention To Lead In Newark's Drinking Water

Protesters In New Jersey Draw Attention To Lead In Newark's Drinking Water

Protesters In New Jersey Draw Attention To Lead In Newark's Drinking Water

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/754617645/754617646" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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Many Newark residents are relying on bottled water, as city leaders struggle to address the crisis. Protests happened against the backdrop of MTV's Video Music Awards, which were held in New Jersey.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

In New Jersey, officials have announced $120 million plan to address elevated lead levels in the water in the city of Newark. This comes as public pressure has been growing. Protesters were on the streets yesterday.

(SOUNDBITE OF PROTEST)

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER: (Chanting) What do we want?

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting) Clean water.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER: (Chanting) When do we need it?

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting) Now.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER: (Chanting) What do we want?

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting) Clean water.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER: (Chanting) When do we need it?

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting) Now.

GREENE: Protesters demanding clean water - it has gotten to the point that many Newark residents are relying on bottled water as their leaders struggle to address this crisis. Gwynne Hogan of New York Public Radio was at the protest in Newark yesterday. Hi, Gwen.

GWYNNE HOGAN, BYLINE: Hi.

GREENE: So I would - help me understand where exactly this was taking place. This was right outside the Video Music Awards - right? - which were being held in the city of Newark. How did that play a role here?

HOGAN: Yeah, this was - it was being held at the Prudential Center. And protesters had targeted this event in particular because there were all of these national and international celebrities in their city. There were people traveling from all over to attend this event, so they really wanted to make a statement about what was going on in their city. And, on the other hand, there were city officials attending this event. And there was frustration among some of the protesters about, you know, how could you be partying while our children are being poisoned with lead? Shouldn't you be focusing on that?

GREENE: So it's both using the platform and also sending a message to city leaders about their priorities, it sounds like.

HOGAN: Mmm hmm.

GREENE: How did we get here? I mean, the water crisis is not new in Newark - right? - but something seems to be elevating it, really, to the forefront.

HOGAN: Right, certainly. So Newark has had elevated levels of lead in its water for - at least since 2017. But the reason why it's become such a flashpoint now in the city is that earlier this month, the federal government, via the EPA, told Newark that it had to start distributing bottled water to residents. And that occurred because the city had done some water sampling of filters it had given out. These filters are lead-safe, theoretically. They're supposed to reduce lead levels to an amount where water can be consumed. But these tests - again, of just a handful, three different filters - found that two of them weren't working.

So it raises a lot of questions. Is this a more widespread problem that many of the filters are not working, or is it perhaps a fluke? So because they're trying to figure that out now, they're doing tests on several hundred more filters at this point. In the meantime, they're having to provide bottled water for residents.

GREENE: And they're also saying - at least city and state leaders are saying - that they're going to put $120 million towards fixing the fundamental problem with these pipes. What does that plan look like, and how realistic is it?

HOGAN: Right. So the reason why - as the city will say over and over and over again - there's nothing wrong with the water source. What happens to Newark's water happens when it passes from the city's water mains into private residences who have lead pipes. There's a chemical that's supposed to treat the water to prevent - to create kind of a protective layer around the lead piping so that lead doesn't leach into that water as it travels into the home. But the chemical stopped working several years ago.

And so while the plan, this new plan - obviously, the main fix is to change these pipes out. Lead should not be used to connect these residences. So this $120 million bond from the county will enable them to fast-track these repairs at a much quicker rate than they could before. But as many folks that I spoke to last night - they're so skeptical. They feel so betrayed at this point because this has been going on for so long, and they've been told so many different things that they're skeptical this can actually get done.

GREENE: And the reality of bottled water for a lot of people, even best-case scenario. Reporter Gwynne Hogan from New York Public Radio. Thanks so much.

HOGAN: Thank you.

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