New Jersey's largest city just handed out expired bottles of water to residents affected by the lead contamination crisis
- Tests over the last two years have found elevated lead levels in the drinking water in Newark, New Jersey.
- Some Newark residents have received free water filters from the city, but the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently warned residents that the filters "may not be reliably effective" at removing lead.
- On Monday, Newark began handing out bottled water to residents, but the cases were expired.
- Water has an unlimited shelf life, but plastic bottles can break down over time, causing chemicals to leach out.
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Residents exposed to lead-contaminated drinking water in Newark, New Jersey, lined up for free bottled water on Monday - only to discover that the cases distributed by the city were expired.
Since January 2017, Newark's water has been found to have lead concentrations over 15 parts per billion - the threshold at which the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) requires public water systems to "take action" to reduce lead contamination. The latest round of tests from January to June showed that lead levels in Newark were more than three times the EPA threshold.
The situation has significant similarities to the crisis in Flint, Michigan. In fact, the pediatrician who revealed an uptick in blood-lead levels among Flint children said last month that if you were to compare the two crises today, Newark's situation is worse.
In October, Newark began handing out free water filters to families served by the Pequannock Water System, which contains lead pipes. The filters are nationally certified to reduce lead contaminants, but recent tests indicate that they haven't brought lead concentrations down to safe levels.
At the end of last week, the EPA determined that the filters "may not be reliably effective" at removing lead from household taps. The agency advised Newark residents to use bottled water instead for drinking and cooking.
The news was "disheartening" to local residents because it "echoed what we were saying the whole time," Debra Salters, a local activist, told Business Insider.
"The community was exploding on Saturday," Salters said. "We're going to keep fighting, but it wounds us."
That was before residents found out that the bottled water distributed by the city had "best by" dates that had already passed. Resident Donna Jackson said on Facebook that some bottles had expired in either May or June.
The acting commissioner of the New Jersey Health Department said in a letter that the water bottles are safe to drink, since water doesn't go bad. But the issue with expired water bottles is the plastic, not the water inside. The plastic used to make water bottles can break down over time, causing chemicals like Bisphenol A (BPA) to leach out. The amount of those chemicals that could wind up in a person's system isn't likely to pose a significant health risk, but could alter the water's taste slightly.
For the most part, expiration dates make it easier for companies to keep track of their water-bottle shipments. The dates also simplify the production process for companies that produce other items that require an expiration date, such as soda.
But in a city already suffering from widespread contamination, the expired water has given residents pause.
On Tuesday, Newark spokesman Frank Baraff told nj.com that some residents were rejecting the expired cases. The publication also reported that one of the city's distribution centers chose to halt their handouts until a fresh shipment arrived.
In the last two years, many residents have learned to trust their intuition over the statements of public officials.
"When the information started coming out, it was like, I knew I wasn't crazy," Salters said. "I knew something was wrong."