The Energy 202: Here’s why Newark’s lead crisis is different

A Newark firefighter and city workers bring water to the Boylan Recreation Center in Newark on Aug. 12, 2019. (Andrew Maclean | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com)

For more than a week, thousands of Newark, N.J. residents have been lining up, enduring midday summer heat, and waiting for free bottled water. Their tap water contains extremely high levels of lead. For years, the city has failed to reduce them. In reporting the complexity of Newark’s problem, the media has drawn comparisons to previous lead contamination crises in Flint, Mich. and Washington, D.C.

From a public health perspective, Newark stands apart.

According to experts who uncovered high lead levels in children’s blood in Flint and Washington, Newark is different because it will be nearly impossible to determine the health damage already done to kids. That’s because the contamination timeline is unclear, the effectiveness of efforts to combat the problem are in question, and, in recent years, federal laws have made it harder to obtain records containing critical data on blood lead levels.

Damage from lead poisoning is irreversible; there is nothing a person can do about past lead exposure. The consequences can be long-term behavioral, cognitive and physical problems.

The timeline for Newark’s water problem is murky.

“In Flint, we can pinpoint when the crisis began. But in Newark, it’s gone under the radar for a while. There’s been quite a bit of denial,” said Mona Hanna-Attisha, the pediatrician who helped bring to light the severity of Flint’s water crisis in 2015.

Hanna-Attisha endured years of government officials publicly discrediting her patients’ blood lead results. In Washington, it took more than five years of lawsuits and Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests for a whistleblower to obtain the data needed to analyze the impacts to kids under age 2. “I barely did it and it could not be done today,” says Marc Edwards, a civil engineer at Virginia Tech who helped blow the whistle on Washington’s lead contamination in the early 2000s. 08-21-19

Read more at The Washington Post