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More Poisoned Water


This time in Newark:

For nearly a year and a half, top officials in Newark denied that their water system had a widespread lead problem, despite ample evidence that the city was facing a public health crisis that had echoes of the one in Flint, Mich.

Even as the risk persisted in the spring, the officials in Newark, New Jersey’s most populous city, took few precautionary measures, instead declaring on their website that, “NEWARK’S WATER IS ABSOLUTELY SAFE TO DRINK.”

But this month, facing results from a new study, the officials abruptly changed course, beginning an urgent giveaway of 40,000 water filters across the city of 285,000 people, targeting tens of thousands of residences.

The revelation that Newark is facing a potentially widening public health crisis over tap water has angered many residents and raised questions about whether the city’s negligence has placed young children at risk.

I need to write more about it, but I can’t recommend Anna Clark’s The Poisoned City highly enough. One of the central themes of the book is that shrinking municipalities — often in growing urban areas — have to try to maintain the same infrastructure with much less money, and states act as if the failure to do so is a managerial failure rather than a question of arithmetic. The crisis in Flint did involve a lot of incompetence at every level but there’s also a broader problem that ensures that there will be many more cases like it.

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