Belleville mayor puts up billboard to bring attention to water issues

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The mayor of Belleville has put up a billboard to bring attention to the fact that his city, like Newark, also has a lead contamination issue with its drinking water.

Mayor Michael Melham says that Belleville residents get their drinking water from the same source as Newark – the Pequannock Reservoir. He says that the state should be helping his city as well.

“If Newark is getting $1 million, shouldn’t Belleville get $200,000?” the mayor asked during a news conference.

Melham says that state officials have not given him any answers as to why they aren’t providing water filters to Belleville residents. The mayor says that Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Catherine McCabe has only told him, “Belleville is on their own.”

RELATED: Belleville mayor organizes lead screening clinic for residents 

The mayor has now erected a large billboard along Route 21 that reads, "Before you spend $1 million on a public relations campaign for Newark water… How about providing filters for Belleville residents?"

FULL COVERAGE: Newark Water Crisis

A website for a petition is also included on the sign.

The billboard refers to the $1 million that is being spent to help educate the people of Newark on how to install and properly use water filters where lead levels are high.

Essex County officials have offered to loan Belleville money to replace the lead water service lines, as they did in Newark. But Melham says that his city cannot afford it.

RELATED: Belleville mayor worried about lead contamination amid Newark water crisis 

"To replace all 6,000 lead service lines in Belleville is a cost of about $24 million…That's nearly a third of our municipal budget,” he says.

Testing done in June showed a few samples of water in Belleville with lead levels slightly above 15 parts per billion. Anything over 15 is believed to be dangerous, according to health officials.

Melham says that bottled water is not mandated and that residents can still use the tap. But he says that it is recommended that they flush the line and get their water tested.

One person in Belleville did recently test positive for high levels of lead. But it was not clear if it's related to their tap water. Clara Maass Medical Center is offering free lead screenings.

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