Sierra Club Testifies on Lead in Drinking Water

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Sierra Club Testifies on Lead in Drinking Water

Today’s Joint Legislative Task Force heard testimony on the issue of lead in the drinking water. New Jersey Sierra Club Director Jeff Tittel released the following statement:

“It’s critical that the Legislature is taking on this issue because we need the Legislature to lead on lead. New Jersey has a crisis with lead in our drinking water, whether you live in a city, the suburbs, or a rural areas. Lead is one of the most hazardous substances known to man and it impacts children, especially small children. We’re seeing high levels of level across the state but it is especially acute in our urban areas. In some cities, children have levels higher than those in Flint, Michigan. Lead can cause illness and even in small amounts can lead to brain damage and learning disabilities. Thousands of children are diagnosed with lead poisoning in New Jersey each year; over 3,000 in 2015 alone. We need to act to stop lead contamination in our drinking water and communities.

“The first step we need to take is to increase testing and better identify the sources of lead poisoning. We have failed to adequately test our drinking water. We have said time and time again that we do not do enough testing at the faucet; most of the testing is done at the plant, which is why we see problems months before it is detected. On top of that we’ve seen officials falsifying data about water quality across the state as well. We should also make faucet testing a part of the check-list for selling any home so these problems can be found much sooner. We also need to change New Jersey’s Action Level to be 5 ppb instead of the current level of 10 ppb. A bill to do this is currently on the Governor’s desk.

“It’s important to have pieces of legislation to find lead in water and homes and stop children from being exposed to it in the first place. There are several current bills aimed at increasing testing including:

·         A3539 (Muoio) requires public and nonpublic schools to test for and remediate lead in drinking water, and disclose test results.

·         A4284 (Quijano) provides that school districts may receive reimbursement for costs incurred on or after January 1, 2016 for testing school drinking water for lead.

·         A4305 (Conaway) requires soil testing to determine lead content prior to certain home sales.

·         A4304 (Conaway) requires compilation of, and public access to, tests of soil lead levels.

·         A4306 (Conaway) requires DEP to adopt Statewide plan to reduce lead exposure from contaminated soils and drinking water.

“Next, after the sources and problems are identified, we need to mitigate and filter the water to make it safe until there is a long-term fix. We need to change filters and filtration processes that need it if necessary. In some cases, they will need to bring in alternative sources of water, which will cost money and require a funding source. In some schools, they will even need to supply bottled water to prevent children and staff from drinking contaminated water. We need to add buffers to lead-contaminated water such as orthophosphates to reduce the lead levels.

“New Jersey needs close our open reservoir systems for finished water in the Passaic Valley, Newark and Trenton.  This water supply can become contaminated with runoff, geese, or even toxic dumping. Most importantly, the failure to have a closed reservoir with secondary treatment does not allow you to add orthophosphates to the water to buffer the pipes and prevent lead accumulation. This is because the sunlight the reservoirs are exposed to will increase algal blooms. If we continue using open-air reservoirs, we risk more contamination. This way of storing drinking water does not allow it to be treated as properly and then the water can be contaminated with lead.

“Most importantly, there needs to be a long-term fixed plans to deal with lead. One of the most important things to do is to replace old pipes and laterals. Many cities in New Jersey have old pipes and aging water infrastructure made from lead or lead sodder. Some of this infrastructure goes back to the Victorian Age. Not only do these pipes contaminate the water, but a quarter of it leaks out back into the environment, spreading that contamination. This is a least a $8 billion problem that needs to be fixed immediately to keep the lead out of our schools. We also need to take measures to prevent pollution in our drinking water supplies in the first place. If there is cleaning water going into our reservoirs, there will be cleaner water going into our pipes. Some of our rivers such as Passaic and Raritan can run 75- 90% sewage discharge. We will need another $8 billion for wastewater treatment plants upgrades.

“We must make sure we’re not making the situation of lead contamination in our drinking water worse through overdevelopment or road salts. These actions add more cholorides to the drinking water, which leach lead out of pipes. The DEP has proposed a serious of rule proposals, including the new Highlands septic rule that threaten the most environmentally sensitive Forest Preservation Area that helps protect our drinking water, pristine trout streams, and reservoirs. Their new Flood Hazard Rules and Water Quality Management Planning Rules also increase dangerous development that can lead to more water pollution. We need to stop the rollbacks in these rules that add development in environmentally sensitive areas.

“New Jersey also must have more oversight and management over our water supply to prevent future problems like this from happening. Under the Christie Administration, environmental enforcement and inspections have been cut at least 60 percent. The state Water Supply Master Plan has not been updated since 1996. This administration prepared a draft report, but has failed to release it to the public. There has not been an overall plan for water supply needs for close to two decades. The plan is supposed to determine water availability and where there are potential water quality and quantity issues. The DEP may be allowing development in areas where there is not adequate water supply.

“New Jersey has a water crisis, and not just with lead. There are at least fifteen other dangerous chemicals found in our drinking water that haven’t had standards set for them yet. The DEP has finally adopted the Drinking Water Quality Institute (DWQI) recommend state limit of the toxic chemical PFNA but we still need them to act on 15 other chemicals including PFOA, PFC, chromium, 1,2,3-TCP, perchlorate, radon, and formaldehyde and arsenic. The Legislature needs to pass S2468 (Lesniak), which directs the DEP to adopt standards for 16 hazardous drinking water contaminants as recommended by Drink Water Quality Institute.

“It is also important for other reasons that we have updated standards for toxins in our drinking water. Under New Jersey law, drinking water standards for these toxins such as lead and chromium are tied to our groundwater and soil standards. By updating those standards, we will be more protective of health while cleaning up contaminated sites by holding them to stricter standards as well. As long as we ignore science and do not set standards for polluters, chemical companies are not held accountable.

“If we want these long-term programs to work, we need to have a way to fund them. The Legislature needs to step up and find funding to remove lead pipes and remediate our water systems. We can have all the testing in the world, but without funding, this is only a band-aid that won’t work long-term. Fees on plastic bottles or bags may help, but we need something more long-term, which will take billions. We’ve heard this all before but will the Legislature put its money where its mouth is?

“It’s time for New Jersey to protect our drinking water from lead and other contaminates. We must replace old infrastructure and protect our reservoirs. We must set important standards and then test for them. We must work to ensure that we are not overdeveloping in environmentally sensitive areas and contaminating our water supplies even more. We’ve been involved with this issue for over 30 years. What we really need is leadership on lead. Once a crisis comes, everyone talks about doing things but nothing changes. We can not let that happen again because our families depend on us. What we need is real action and we need the Legislature to help come up with a long-term funding source. We must protect our most precious recourses: our children.”