BELLEVILLE — The financial assistance isn't coming from his original target, but Mayor Michael Melham is getting the help he needs to distribute free water filters to his residents who get their water from the Newark water utility.

Three months ago, the mayor used a billboard on Route 21 to demand help from the state.

Thanks to $70,000 in donations from the United Way of Greater Newark and Clara Maass Medical Center, distribution of filters and replacement cartridges has begun for the township's most vulnerable residents.

Households with senior citizens, young children, individuals under doctor care, or expecting/nursing mothers are first in line to receive the pouring pitchers.

$70,000 in donations will help purchase more than 2,000 water filters for Belleville residents. (FiltersForBelleville.org)

Residents were and are still being encouraged to register online at FiltersForBelleville.org. The form asks a few questions that the township will review for eligibility. Residents in the Silver Lake area of the township, for example, wouldn't be eligible for the filters because the community is part of Newark's infrastructure and residents can receive filters by contacting Newark Water at 973-733-6303.

"The other residents that we deem would not be eligible are residents who have houses that were built after 1950, because they do not have a residential lead service line," Melham said.

The donations, helped along by Newark Mayor Ras Baraka and Clara Maass CEO Mary Ellen Clyne, should help secure a little more than 2,000 filters for Belleville.

"We think that's probably going to be enough," Melham said.

About $45,000 of the $70,000 has been spent already. The township's received about 750 filters and another 500 are on their way, Melham said.

In the wake of lead contamination issues uncovered in 2019, Newark provided thousands of residents with Pur water filters for their home faucets. Tests conducted on the filters found that 97.5% of the filters, when properly installed and maintained, reduced lead levels in water to a safe level. More than 99% of the filters reduced lead in the water to a safe level when the faucet was flushed for five minutes prior.

Newark is currently running a two-year program that aims to replace all the lead service lines in the city. So far, about 5,500 lines have been replaced with copper pipes; the goal is 18,000.

Melham's billboard, which he says was put up "strictly out of frustration" in September, urged the state Department of Environmental Protection to provide filters or funding for filters before devoting $1 million to educating Newark residents on how to use their new water filters.

When contacted by New Jersey 101.5 in September, the DEP said it does not provide water systems with filters.

"The DEP supports local decisions to issue filters and will provide technical assistance in those instances as well," the Department said.

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Contact reporter Dino Flammia at dino.flammia@townsquaremedia.com.