- After a report found a small number of city-issued filters failed to remove lead from Newark’s water system, the city advised all affected residents to avoid drinking from tap water.
- Monday, the city and state began handing out water bottles, but people soon discovered the water was months past its best-by date.
- Many have called for Mayor Ras Baraka to resign because the city has faced elevated lead levels for years, but residents were not told the water was unsafe to drink until last year.
Asking for Federal Aid
Newark and New Jersey state officials are asking the Federal government to step in after the city began handing out bottled water earlier this week in response to growing concerns of lead contaminating its water service lines.
On Wednesday, Governor Phil Murphy visited the city and reiterated the need for federal aid, saying the state does not have enough water bottles to continue passing out for an extended period of time.
“Everybody, young and old, big and small, regardless of where you are in this state, in this community — certainly in Newark — in this country: clean water is a right, not a privilege, for everybody, and we believe that with great passion,” Murphy said in a press conference.
Earlier in the day, Senator Cory Booker — who lives in Newark — tweeted about the need for federal aid in his hometown.
“It’s shameful that our national crisis of lead-contaminated water disproportionately hits poor black and brown communities like my own,” he wrote.
Newark’s Lead Crisis Explained
Old and corroding water service lines have propagated Newark’s lead issues for years.
Since the 2010-2011 academic year, the Newark Board of Education has found elevated lead-water levels in schools every year. Despite attempting to fix the problem by installing new water lines, it persisted.
In 2016, over 30 schools resorted to using bottled water after shutting off fountains, and thousands of children have been tested to see if they have increased levels of lead in their blood, with about 25 percent of Newark children under six having detectable lead levels.
In 2017, it was reported that 1 in every 10 households in Newark had twice the amount of lead the Environmental Protection Agency sets as a federal standard.
In the fall of last year, the city began handing out lead-safe PÜR filters. The city has estimated it has distributed more than 38,000 filters since October.
The increased calls for federal aid come after the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency issued an Aug. 9 statement to Mayor Ras Baraka, urging the city to begin handing out bottled water after it seemed some lead-safe filters were not adequately removing lead from water.
“We are unable at this time to assure Newark residents that their health is fully protected when drinking tap water filtered through these devices,” EPA Regional Administrator Peter Lopez said.
The next day, Baraka held a press conference and announced the city had received reports that two of three tested filters contained lead levels four times above what the EPA allows.
“A small sample of water filters provided to the City of Newark may not be removing lead to the low levels expected by city, state and federal officials,” a report released by the city on Monday said.
Also on Monday, city and state officials began handing out water bottles, advising those in affected areas to use bottled water to drink, cook, and prepare baby formula.
Later, people began to notice the water was past its best-by date of May 30, and 50,000 more bottles had to be ordered. The state maintains the expired water was likely still safe to drink.
Residents waiting for water faced heat and long lines. Some said they were turned away if they weren’t from a specific area.
At the same time, Baraka has continually encouraged people to run their water for activities like showering or washing dishes. Currently, the city is attempting a corrosion-control treatment meant to re-coat old pipes.
Baraka has said residents should flush their water for 3-5 minutes before using it but has said the process will take some time.
Because the water crisis affects mostly low-income and African American households, many are drawing comparisons to Flint, though Baraka has denied those associations and called them false comparisons.
Calls for Baraka to Resign
Despite the efforts taken by the city, some are saying Baraka should resign because until last fall, the city denied having a dangerous amount of lead in the water system.
“It’s wrong,” one resident told ABC. “Something should be done about this. This has been going on for a while, and they’ve been covering it up and nobody didn’t do nothing about it.”
After being sued by the Natural Resources Defense Council, Newark released a June 2018 statement saying “the City’s water is not contaminated with lead.”
“The lawsuit filed by the Natural Resources Defense Council is based on the premise that Newark residents are exposed to dangerous levels of lead in the City’s drinking water,” the statement reads. “That charge is absolutely and outrageously false. The truth is that the water supplied by the city is pure, safe and fully complies with federal and state regulations. The NRDC has seriously mischaracterized the facts.
Many residents have spoken up about similar claims, saying the city lied to them.
“‘Your water’s fine, everything’s fine,’” Evette Jordan said she was told in an interview with CBS This Morning.
“That’s what you heard from the city?” reporter Anna Werner asked her.
“Yes, through several robocalls, through press conferences from our mayor,” Jordan said.
Though Newark admitted to the problems with lead in schools in the June statement, it argued it wasn’t to blame because the lead “stems from privately owned lead service lines,” not city mains.
See what others are saying: (WABC) (Star-Ledger) (New York Times)
Florida Breaks Its Record for New Daily COVID-19 Cases and Hospitalizations
The Sunshine State now accounts for 20% of all new COVID-19 cases nationwide.
Florida Becomes COVID Epicenter
Florida reported 10,207 COVID-19 hospitalizations on Sunday, marking its largest single-day count to date. The grim record comes just one day after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released data showing that the state had counted 21,683 new infections Friday, its highest record of daily cases since the start of the pandemic.
Florida has become the new epicenter of the most recent U.S. outbreaks driven by the delta variant. The state now accounts for one out of every five new cases, and the weekend numbers are highly significant because they surpass previous records that were logged before vaccines were readily available.
Notably, Florida’s vaccination rate is actually the exact same as the nationwide average of 49% fully vaccinated, according to The New York Times tracker. In fact, Florida’s rate is the highest among the top 10 states currently reporting the most COVID cases.
While Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) has encouraged Florida residents to get vaccinated, he and the state’s legislature have also made it much harder for local officials to enforce protections to mitigate further spread.
DeSantis Bars Masking in Schools
On the same day that the state reported its highest cases ever, DeSantis signed an executive order banning school districts from requiring students to wear a mask when they go back to school later this month.
The move directly contradicts guidance issued by the CDC last week, which recommended that everyone inside K-12 schools wear a face covering.
DeSantis, for his part, has repeatedly claimed the spikes are part of “seasonal” increases driven by more people being indoors and air-conditioning systems circulating the virus. Still, he argued also Friday that he did not think masks were necessary to prevent children from transmitting COVID in the classroom, where they are inside with air conditioning.
At the same time, last week, Florida reported more than 21,000 infections among children younger than 19.
Florida is not the only state that has banned schools from requiring masks. In fact, many of the states suffering the biggest spikes have done the same, including Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Texas — which all currently rank among the top 10 states with the highest per capita COVID cases.
See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (NPR) (Axios)
Biden to Mandate COVID Vaccines for Federal Workers as CDC Changes Masking Guidance
News of the efforts came on the same day that the U.S. reported more than 100,000 new daily COVID cases for the first time since February.
Federal Vaccine Mandate
President Joe Biden will announce Thursday that all federal employees must get vaccinated against COVID-19 or consent to strict testing and other safety precautions, White House officials told reporters Tuesday.
Earlier in the day, Biden said he was considering the requirement but did not provide any more information.
While the officials also said the details are still being hashed out, they did note that the policy would be similar to ones recently put in place by California and New York City, which respectively required state and city workers to get the jab or submit to regular testing.
Also on Tuesday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated their guidelines to recommend that Americans who live in areas “of substantial or high transmission,” as well as all students and teachers, wear masks indoors regardless of their vaccination status.
Delta Causes Spikes, But Vaccines Still Prove Effective
The renewed COVID mitigation efforts come as the delta variant is driving massive surges all over the country.
Coronavirus cases have quadrupled throughout July, jumping from a weekly average of 11,799 on the first day of the month to 63,248 on Tuesday, according to The New York Times tracker. Tuesday also saw new daily infections topping 100,000 for the first time since February, with more than 108,000 reported, per The Times.
While the vast majority of new infections are among people who have not been vaccinated, there have also been increasing reports of breakthrough cases in people who have received the jab.
Those cases, however, do not mean that the vaccines are not effective.
No vaccine prevents 100% of infections. Health officials have said time and time again that the jabs are intended to prevent severe disease and death, and they are doing just that.
According to the most recent data for July 19, the CDC reported that only 5,914 of the more than 161 million Americans who have gotten the vaccine were hospitalized or died from COVID-19 — a figure that represents 0.0036% of vaccinated people.
While safety precautions may be recommended for some people who have received the vaccine, many media narratives have overstated the role breakthrough cases play in the recent spikes. As New York Magazine explains, it is imperative to understand these new mask recommendations are not happening because the vaccine is not effective, but because not enough people are getting the vaccine.
“Because breakthrough infections have so often made the news due to their novelty, that can create a perception of more cases than are actually happening — particularly without more robust tracking of the actual cases to provide context,” the outlet wrote.
See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (The New York Times) (CNBC)
Wisconsin Police Deny Planting Evidence in Viral Video, Release Their Own Body Cam Footage
The footage police released shows that during a search, officers found a corner tear from a plastic bag inside a backseat passenger’s pocket. An officer then discarded it into the car after determining that it was empty.
Viral Video Appears To Show Officer Planting Evidence
The Caledonia Police Department in Wisconsin has responded to a viral cell phone video that appears to show an officer planting a small plastic baggie inside of a car during a traffic stop.
The now-viral footage was posted to Facebook by a man who goes by GlockBoy Savoo.
The user, who also filmed the clip, wrote in his post’s caption that the officer did this “just to get a reason to search the car” and said the cop didn’t know he was being recorded by the passenger.
Police Shut Down Accusations With Their Own Footage
After that video spread across social media, many were outraged, calling the Caledonia police dirty for seemingly planting evidence. All the outrage eventually prompted the department to announce an investigation Saturday.
Within hours, the department provided an update, claiming that officers didn’t actually plant any evidence or do anything illegal.
Police shared a lengthy summary of events, along with two body camera clips from the incident. That statement explained that the driver of the vehicle was pulled over for going 63 in a 45mph zone.
Two passengers in the backseat who were then spotted without seatbelts were asked to identify themselves and step out of the car. During a search of one passenger’s pockets, an officer pulled out “an empty corner tear” from a plastic baggie.
Police claim the corner tear did not contain any illegal substances, though they said this type of packaging is a common method for holding illegal drugs.
In one body cam clip, an officer can be heard briefly questioning the backseat passenger about the baggie. Then, that piece of plastic gets handed off to different officers who also determined it as empty before the officer in the original viral video discarded it into the back of the car.
The officer can also be seen explaining where the plastic came from to the passenger recording him.
“Aye, bro you just threw that in here!” the front seat passenger says, as heard in his version of the events.
“Yeah, cause it was in his pocket and I don’t want to hold onto it. It’s on their body cam that they took it off of him…I’m telling you where it came from, so. It’s an empty baggie at the moment too, so,” the officer replies.
The department went on to explain that while it would discourage officers from discarding items into a citizen’s car, this footage proves that evidence was not planted.
Authorities also noted that no arrests were made in this incident and the driver was the only one issued a citation for speeding. The statement added that since four officers were present at the scene, police have more than six hours of footage to review but they promised to release the footage in full in the near future.