NEWARK, NJ - A state Assemblyman from a legislative district neighboring Newark called on Gov. Phil Murphy to declare a state of emergency in the face of the city's deepening lead water crisis.
"I am pleading and suggesting to you as the Governor of this great State that a State of Emergency be called. This request comes on the backs of each human being in New Jersey that fears government has not appeared to show protection to them, nor has been transparent in this process that we together now face," Assemblyman Jamel Holley (D - Roselle) wrote in a letter that he sent on Tuesday to Murphy and Newark Mayor Ras Baraka.
"When it comes to complex environmental issues such as lead and contamination, we know the effects it can have on human health and the sense of safety and well-being perceived by the community," Holley said in the letter first provided to TapInto Newark. "Government is there to ensure security, not display doubt. This matter has doubt. The public's faith in its government is at stake here."
Holley, whose district includes the Union County municipalities of Elizabeth, Hillside, Roselle and Union, has already been publicly outspoken regarding the ongoing lead water crisis in Newark.
"I am not going to divulge how disappointed I am with the leadership within this State on the handling of the water crisis our Newark community is facing," Holley said in an August 12 Facebook post. "However, as a State elected leader in Union County and former Mayor of the Borough of Roselle, I cannot idly stand by and watch our most vulnerable human beings particularly our children, seniors, and families suffer from poisonous lead levels."
In the same post, Holley announced the beginning of a bottled water collection drive or behalf of Newark residents. A series of subsequent posts on Facebook indicate that the scope of the drive has spread, with donations coming from as near as Westfield and as far Brooklyn.
Holley also indicated in a NJTV interview broadcast on August 13 that he would ask Murphy to call a state of emergency if the situation did not improve.
Holley's call to Gov. Murphy to declare a state of emergency comes after a series of dramatic events related to the ongoing crisis of lead contamination in Newark's water.
On August 9, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) revealed testing results showing that out of three filters provided to Newark residents by the city to reduce lead in the water to safe levels, two had failed to work.
At the same time, the EPA urged Newark residents to use bottled water for drinking and cooking until the results of the filter testing are fully understood and additional sampling is performed.
Meanwhile, bottled water distribution began last week at several locations throughout the city, but only for Newark residents of the western half of the city who are serviced by the Pequannock water treatment plant with lead service lines who have received filters.
Holley's letter was also sent to Belleville Mayor Michael Melham and Bloomfield Mayor Michael Venezia. Both municipalities are serviced by the Pequannock water treatment plant. He also sent the letter to Hillside Mayor Dahlia Vertreese. About 50 houses in Hillside are impacted by the water problem.
Gov. Murphy has weighed in on the lead water crisis in Newark, visiting the city last week where he offered help distributing bottled water to city residents and pointed to the federal government's responsibility to improve water infrastructure. A federal district court judge is now deciding whether the city of Newark will be compelled to expand its emergency bottled water distribution to include residents of the eastern half of Newark, who are serviced by the Wanaque water treatment plan.
In his letter to Murphy, Baraka, and other officials, Holley refers to the infamous lead water contamination crisis that began in Flint, Michigan five years ago. State and federal authorities ultimately declared a state of emergency in Flint in January 2016. Flint city officials recently announced they hope to complete lead service line replacement by the end of this year.
Holley lists a series of steps that should be part of the enactment of the state of emergency, including an immediate take over by the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) of the management of Newark's water system, dispatching the New Jersey National Guard to help distribute unexpired, bottled water to all municipalities affected, weekly test results of the Pequannock and Wanaque water systems, as well as the Cedar Grove filtration system, and additional lead testing locations for families and children.
Holley also suggested the governor petition the U.S. Attorney's Office to appoint a social prosecutor to review, investigate and make public all water, sewer, and repair contracts related with the Pequannock and Wanaque water systems, as well as the Cedar Grove filtration system.
Alexandra Altman, a spokeswoman for Murphy, said, "The Governor is reviewing Assemblyman Holley's request and is considering all options."
Holley acknowledged that he is a representative from a neighboring county, and is getting involved as he has in the past with humanitarian efforts around the state and country. "I am not going to sit idly by and not pitch in to help those who are vulnerable here," he said.
"Humanitarian efforts are about people, not politics," he said. "Those who want to get involved in political pushback are not humanitarians."
When asked if by calling for a state of emergency he was creating a panic, he pointed out that it was the opposite. The state of emergency "puts all hand on deck" and commits city, county, state and federal resources to provide comfort to citizens as solutions are found.
Mayor Baraka could not immediately be reached for comment.