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Booker left Newark years before the lead levels dropped, but what happened under his watch?



The escalating water crisis in Newark focuses unwanted attention on the Democratic president's term of hope for Corey Boer as mayor and his leadership of the city's troubled water system, long before lead levels rise in drinking water.

Problems in the city reached new heights last week when officials began the widespread distribution of more than 70,000 bottled water cases.

Booker, who led Newark as mayor from 2006-2013, quit before elevated lead levels were first revealed in the water supply in 2017 by extensive testing in 201

5, two years after he was elected to the Senate to the United States, showed no problems and his campaign rejected all claims that he shared any blame for it.

In a letter to the US Environmental Protection Agency last week, Booker asked for "immediate assistance" and assistance for the supply of bottled water to Newark residents.

"The emergency of water in Newark requires immediate attention of our federal government," Booker tweeted on Wednesday. "Everyone deserves clean, safe water – it's a shame that our national lead-contaminated crisis is disproportionately hitting poor black and brown communities like my own."

Still, opponents have taken the opportunity to criticize its oversight of water supply. the city. the way former Vice President Joe Biden cites a study by the Department of Justice's Newark Police Department at Booker.

"As Mayor of Newark, Corey Booker was aware of the water quality issues and failed to act or was completely incompetent." says Chris Martin, a spokesman for America Rising, a Republican research group.

Booker is confronted with his own water scandal – one that remains among the biggest black marks of his local reign – shortly after he climbs the US Senate. [19659002] Reporting State Governor of Corruption in 2014 found violent abuse of public funds and no meaningful oversight at the semi-public agency responsible for the treatment and delivery of water in North Jersey y, the Newark Water Conservation and Development Corporation.

The charges quickly followed.

At least nine individuals, including consultants, contractors and Booker's ally who led the agency, Linda Watkins-Brascier, were swallowed up by the criminal charges. Watkins-Brascher managed the water supply from 2007 to 2013 and is currently serving an eight-year sentence for bribing in exchange for workless contracts or overstated contracts. The water distribution corporation receives $ 10 million a year from the city.

The $ 1 million corruption scheme eventually sank the agency.

Booker serves as chairman of the board of trustees of the watershed corporation, but never attends a meeting. He has never been investigated or charged with a crime, and his name has also been dropped from a court case alleging that he failed to supervise the agency.

Dan Flaherty, an economist at Columbia University, made a brief stint as Booker's CFO, said Booker left the water department in worse shape than when he became mayor.

"Professional engineering quality was less than optimal," said Flaherty, who helped uncover the watershed corruption. "The likelihood of someone making a mistake is higher when he or she left than when he walked in." was terminated in 2013 with its city commitments.

The Pequannock Wastewater Treatment Plant was again in the spotlight in 2017 when water treatment at a facility known as corrosion control failed to protect lead of 18,000 old lead pipes in the city of

It's not clear when corrosion control becomes ineffective, but a city consultant studying water estimates that treatment stops working just before lead levels rise nearly three years ago.

NJ Review The Advance Media Advisers study found that a key reason why water treatment was likely to fail: In or about 2012 – when Booker was still mayor – Newark changed the acidity or pH of the water to avoid disrupting another federal standard which is limited Ava levels of potentially carcinogenic chemicals, which could be formed in disinfection of water. Experts say the changed pH probably made the water more corrosive – and more likely to feed on the pipes, leaving the flakes in the feed. In other words, urban corrosion control has not stopped working. Newark changed the chemical composition of the water, which probably made the treatment with lead less effective over time.

The consulting company CDM Smith stated that misunderstanding the way corrosion control works in the city means that employees cannot know that its pH adjustments will have these effects.

"There was a fateful series of solutions to reduce pH levels," O'Flaherty said. "We don't know who did it, how they did it, what their motives are. Looks like in retrospect you don't have to be an extremely sophisticated chemist to know that when you make the water more acidic, it will corrode more. "

Newark schools also showed elevated levels of lead in 2016, prompting more than 30 schools to close their fountains with water. But city officials said the school's lead problems were caused by the old plumbing in the room, not by water treatment.

Last week, alarm sampling showed that water filters in two of the three homes tested did not remove lead at expected levels. The filters are nationally certified and are used nationwide, including in Flint, Michigan. The results shocked state and federal government officials, igniting the immediate distribution of bottled water.

The filters, of which 39,000 were distributed, were intended as a short-term solution until a city employee introduced a new corrosion treatment that would take six months to a year to work. Newark, with the help of the state, is also launching a $ 75 million program to replace 18,000 lead lines in the city, but that will take eight years.

Booker is sponsoring a bill that will give states more flexibility to access funding and provide for the immediate replacement of thousands of lead service lines that run in older cities. The bill was introduced this spring.

  Wednesday, August 14, 2019 - Newark Juan Guerra, 83, carries bottled water for free from the city's health department. Many residents have high levels of lead in their tap water.

Michael Mancuso | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com

Wednesday, August 14, 2019 – Newark Juan Guerra resident, 83, carries bottled water for free from the city's health department. Many residents have high levels of lead in their tap water.

"Every American deserves to drink clean, safe water," said bookmaker campaign spokeswoman Sabrina Singh. "It's not just a Newark problem or just a Flint problem. More than 3,000 communities nationwide have children with twice as low lead levels as those found in Flint. This national crisis is disproportionately affecting poor black and brown communities – and will continue until we repair the crumbling infrastructure. "

Flaherty said that one of his long-term concerns remains to restore public confidence in the city's water.

"Say that the water with Pequannock will be fine," he said. "How can you persuade people to drink it? I do not think the city has much confidence in this as it is repeatedly said that the water is fine. ”

Read more about NJ.com New Jersey water issues here.

Karen Yi can be reached at kyi@njadvancemedia.com . Follow her on Twitter at @karen_yi or on Facebook .

Jonathan D. Salant can be reached at jsalant@njadvancemedia.com . Follow him on Twitter @JDSalant or on Facebook . Find NJ.com Policy on Facebook .

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