New Jersey finds 160,000 lead pipes in homes, busi­nesses

The Morning Call - - LOCAL NEWS - By Mike Catal­ini

TREN­TON, N.J. – New Jersey’s first at­tempt to put to­gether a com­pre­hen­sive in­ven­tory of the type of lead pipes that caused a drink­ing wa­ter cri­sis in the state’s big­gest city is un­der­way, and so far has counted around 160,000 of the po­ten­tially toxic pipes at homes and busi­nesses across the state, ac­cord­ing to pub­lic records.

That fig­ure is likely to climb as more data comes in. The data col­lected by the Depart­ment of En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion in­cludes a mix of com­plete and par­tial re­sults from about three­quar­ters of the state’s nearly 600 wa­ter sys­tems. A 2016 Amer­i­can Wa­ter Works As­so­ci­a­tion sur­vey es­ti­mated that twice as many of New Jersey’s homes and busi­nesses get wa­ter through lead ser­vice lines.

The state be­gan the in­ven­tory in Jan­uary, but the ef­fort took on new ur­gency after res­i­dents in part of Ne­wark were ad­vised to stop drink­ing their tap wa­ter be­cause of con­cerns about lead poi­son­ing.

Mil­lions of Amer­i­cans get their drink­ing wa­ter through old lead pipes, but ex­perts say any dan­ger from those lines can be re­duced or elim­i­nated by treat­ing the wa­ter with an­ti­cor­ro­sion agents.

In Ne­wark, that treat­ment stopped work­ing and the En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency raised con­cerns this year that fil­ters given to res­i­dents were also fail­ing to prop­erly re­move lead. Since then, the city has said tests have shown 99 per­cent of the fil­ters work­ing prop­erly and has be­gun a $120 mil­lion pro­ject to re­place lead pipes.

A hand­ful of other states have be­gun ei­ther vol­un­tary or re­quired lead pipe in­ven­to­ries in the wake of sim­i­lar lead crises in Flint, Michi­gan, and Wash­ing­ton D.C.

Only five states re­quire in­ven­to­ries or maps of their lo­ca­tions, ac­cord­ing to the As­so­ci­a­tion of State Drink­ing Wa­ter Ad­min­is­tra­tors. A hand­ful of other states have set up vol­un­tary re­port­ing.

“It is an im­por­tant step in bet­ter un­der­stand­ing the scope of the chal­lenge and in set­ting pri­or­i­ties,” said Tom Nelt­ner, the chem­i­cals pol­icy di­rec­tor at the En­vi­ron­men­tal De­fense Fund.

Nelt­ner also called on the state to pub­lish its in­ven­tory and iden­tify the sys­tems that haven’t re­sponded so far.

The As­so­ci­ated Press ob­tained the in­for­ma­tion in re­sponse to a re­quest made through the state’s Open Pub­lic Records Act.

New Jersey doesn’t have a plan to re­place all its lead pipes. There’s a con­sen­sus that the top hur­dle is cost, which the state has said could top $2 bil­lion.

The data shows some of the state’s big­gest and old­est cities that were sus­pected or known to have lead ser­vice lines in fact have tens of thou­sands of lead pipes. Among those cities are Ne­wark, Jersey City, Cam­den and Tren­ton.

But the in­ven­tory also lists smaller towns that have re­ported thou­sands of lead ser­vice lines as well, in­clud­ing Belleville, East Orange, Garfield and Hack­en­sack in north­ern New Jersey, and Stone Har­bor along the south­ern coast, which re­ported 1,800 lines.

Depart­ment of En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion as­so­ciate com­mis­sioner Kati An­garone said in a state­ment that flush­ing pipes after wa­ter has sat for hours can re­duce lead ex­po­sure sig­nif­i­cantly.

She added that chem­i­cals to con­trol the cor­ro­sion of lead in pipes is used across the state and has been a “ef­fec­tive means” of pre­vent­ing lead from leach­ing into drink­ing wa­ter.

That’s not suf­fi­cient ac­tion, said Jeff Tit­tel, the di­rec­tor of the state’s Sierra Club.

“It’s 20 years over­due, prob­a­bly more like 30 years over­due,” Tit­tel said. “The big ques­tion is what does DEP do about it?”

Ne­wark is re­plac­ing roughly 18,000 lead ser­vice lines. Michi­gan is re­plac­ing its 500,000 lead ser­vice lines.

New Jersey law­mak­ers have be­gun hold­ing hear­ings on the is­sue. Dur­ing re­cent pub­lic tes­ti­mony Demo­cratic state Sen. Brian Stack sounded frus­trated and called on his col­leagues to come up with a so­lu­tion to the prob­lem.

“I think we re­ally need to take the bull by the horns,” Stack said. “The fact that we’re still tak­ing about lead pipes and lead paint in 2019 in New jersey is a sad com­men­tary.”

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