Plan to replace all of NJ’s lead pipes head to Murphy’s office


Throughout New Jersey, lead service lines were underground, carrying potable water from main lines to homes.

These are the same types of pipelines that were at the heart of the lead crisis in Newark, as well as the problems in Trenton and Bergen County. But despite the threat, state officials do not know the whereabouts of half of New Jersey’s estimated 350,000 service lines. And there is currently no timeline for getting rid of all the problematic pipes in the state.

All of that may soon change.

State lawmakers on Thursday gave final passage to a bill (A5343/ S3398) which would require every community water supply system in New Jersey to inventory its service lines within six months and replace each of those lines within 10 years. Water supply systems could ask the state for a 5-year extension if they can prove they need more time.

The legislation, which was passed unanimously by the State Senate on Monday and by the Assembly Thursday with a 73-0 vote, is a key part of a plan proposed by Gov. Phil Murphy in 2019 to tackle lead exposure in the Garden State.

MP Gary Schaer, D-Passaic, was the bill’s main sponsor in the Assembly. He said the measure is key to protecting the health of children in the state and it will create jobs as utilities get to work removing old pipes.

“This is probably the most important and important bill that I have ever written,” Schaer said.

Murphy’s office declined to comment on the legislation. State Senator Troy Singleton, D-Burlington, said he expects Murphy to sign it as is.

Singleton, one of the bill’s sponsors in the state Senate, called the down payment aggressive on the “monumental task” of securing New Jersey’s lead. He added that he believes this bill could serve as a model for lawmakers in other states.

“I am delighted that we are able to do this,” Singleton said. “We know the damage the main lines of service suffer, especially for the development of our children. “

Exposure to lead can have serious health effects, especially in children. According to the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, lead can damage a child’s brain and create learning and behavior problems. There is no safe amount of lead in a child’s blood.

The United States Environmental Protection Agency estimates that at least 20% of human exposure to lead is Of drinking water. Infants who consume formula can get up to 60% of their lead exposure from water.

“In recent years, a number of New Jersey water supply systems, particularly those in urban areas, have reported high action levels of lead in their drinking water, which is simply unacceptable,” he said. said Senator Linda Greenstein, D-Middlesex, another sponsor of the bill. .

“Everyone should be able to have a drink of water without having to worry about possible lead contamination and we must immediately address this statewide problem. “

When water systems have high levels of lead, the source is usually lead service lines and other old lead plumbing near the faucet rather than the water source itself. Drinking water is treated to be made less corrosive, to prevent it from eating into lead pipes that it may pass through, but anticorrosion treatment can sometimes fail. Experts agree that the only way to permanently eliminate any threat of lead in water systems is to replace obsolete pipes.

AFTER: See our comic that explains how lead entered drinking water across the NJ

The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection was aware of about 160,000 lead service lines in New Jersey in 2019, but the agency warned that number is expected to increase as more and more of water supply systems update their inventories.

The American Water Works Association estimates that there are 350,000 lead service lines in New Jersey, and their replacement – the only way to ensure that no lead enters the drinking water supply. – will cost around $ 2.3 billion.

So far, payment for work has been done in various ways. Many public systems have relied on government loans to finance replacement projects. Newark, which emerged from a major crisis that gained national attention in 2019 by replacing more than 18,000 service lines at no cost to residents, relied heavily on a county bond of $ 120 million. of dollars which was repaid with the money collected by leasing the land under Newark Liberty International Airport.

The new bill allows investor-owned companies, such as New Jersey American Water and SUEZ, to assess customer charges within an affected water system to pay for their pipe replacement programs. Plans to create such a charge would have to be approved by the state’s Utilities Board.

It is possible that a rush of federal dollars is pouring into New Jersey for lead line replacement. A bipartisan infrastructure deal announced Thursday by President Joe Biden and 10 U.S. senators includes $ 45 billion to deal with 10 million problematic pipelines in the country.

If Congress fails to deliver, however, local political experts hope state leaders will spend existing COVID-19 relief money to lead service line replacements.

“While we hope Congress will take such a step, we cannot count on it,” said Chris Sturm, general manager of policy and water for New Jersey Future, in a statement. “The state of New Jersey may need to devote a portion of the US bailout funds for this purpose, especially for communities that are already struggling with unaffordable water tariffs.”

Read more about NJ.comthe cover of New Jersey’s water problems here.

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Michael Sol Warren can be reached at [email protected].

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