‘It’s a public health crisis’: Suit demands bottled water amid Newark lead contamination

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Testimony continued Friday in a lawsuit brought against the city of Newark about the ongoing water crisis.

The Natural Resources Defense Council and the Newark Education Workers Caucus filed a lawsuit on behalf of city residents, demanding bottled water for all while the city deals with lead contamination caused by lead water lines leading to people’s homes.

“This is a huge issue. It's a public health crisis and we'd like to see the state, the city and the federal government all anteing up and fixing this issue,” says Erik Olson with the NRDC.

Olson says that the focus Friday was to have bottled water distributed to pregnant mothers and families with young children in areas of Newark services by the Wanaque Water Treatment Plant.

RELATED: Newark residents take city to court over drinking water crisis 
RELATED: Financial issues mean some Newark residents can’t avoid lead-tainted water 

A representative from the Environmental Protection Agency testified that on Aug. 9, the EPA called for bottled water to be distributed in Newark. This is happening, but only in areas serviced by the Pequannock Water Treatment Plant. The representative said that the EPA is OK with the distribution as it stands.

But it came to light that the letter provided by the EPA said “Newark,” not just a certain area in Newark. The judge said that in the eyes of the law, she should be looking at this as one-regulated water system in the city -- not one designated to certain areas.

The NRDC argues that everyone deserves safe drinking water.

CONTINUING COVERAGE: Newark drinking water crisis
MORE: Newark drinking water situation FAQ

“The city has argued that it's like crying ‘fire’ in a crowded room, that if we start distributing bottled water to people in the eastern part of the city, people won't trust their water,” Olson says. “We think that horse is out of the barn, that people are not trusting their water. What we really need to do is to make sure that the health of the most vulnerable citizens here in Newark is protected.”

The defense argued that the DEP and EPA are doing their job correctly. The judge acknowledged this claim, saying she had a hard time reconciling what she could do that they are not already doing.

The judge said that she had a big decision to make. A verdict was not expected Friday.

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