By Daniel Trotta
(Reuters) – Temporary water filters installed in homes in New Jersey’s largest city of Newark are at least 97 percent effective in reducing lead in drinking water, officials said on Monday, but that doesn’t mean the water is safe to drink.
Testing carried out on 1,700 samples taken from 300 homes showed the filters were 97% effective immediately “the moment the tap is opened” and 99% effective after “five minutes of flushing,” Governor Phil Murphy told a news conference.
Independent experts considered the test results positive as a stopgap measure but noted the efficiency standard of 10 parts per billion, the level at which the filters are certified, was not a standard for safety.
“The filters are reliable, especially if they’re used as directed and used in combination with flushing,” New Jersey Environmental Commissioner Catherine McCabe told Reuters.
But she added: “That is not a standard that is considered safe or that has any meaning in either federal or state law. The 10 parts per billion is the certification level that the filter manufacturer tested it to.”
Experts say there is no safe amount of lead for human consumption. Lead can cause health problems, especially in children, even at microscopic levels.
“It is good news that at least the interim measure was working as intended, but it’s not the final answer,” said Elyse Pivnick, director of environmental health for Isles, a community development and environmental organization based in Trenton, New Jersey.
New Jersey has begun a $120 million project to replace aging pipes, blamed for leaching the toxic metal into the drinking water, to around 18,000 homes within 30 months.
A year ago officials started giving out some 38,000 water filters to reduce lead, the same type used in Flint, Michigan, a city that drew national attention in 2015 after children were poisoned by lead in the drinking water.
Tests last month showed elevated lead in two homes that had filters installed, leading to wider testing and the distribution of bottled water.
Success in Newark will depend on having an ample supply of filters and educating people how to use and replace them, said Ruth Ann Norton, president of Green & Healthy Homes Initiative, an advocacy for safe housing.
“If you think of lead as a neurotoxin, you want the level to be zero,” Norton said.
A Reuters investigation in 2016 found nearly 3,000 places in the United States with lead poisoning rates much higher than those seen in Flint, in many cases caused by decades-old flaking lead paint or aging lead pipes.
(Reporting by Daniel Trotta and Barbara Goldberg in New York; Editing by Scott Malone, Marguerita Choy and Sonya Hepinstall)