What to Know
- Thousands of New Jersey households will soon be getting notified that their residences have lead service lines and will be replaced over the next decade under a 2021 state law.
- Just how quickly the lines will be replaced isn't clear. In the meantime, the letter being sent to households advises running cold water to flush out lead, among other steps.
- The cost of replacement is likely to be distributed to utility ratepayers or homeowners.
Thousands of New Jersey households will soon be getting notified that their residences have lead service lines and will be replaced over the next decade under a 2021 state law, environmental regulators said Thursday.
The 186,000 lead lines are not in a single town, city or county but are all over the state, the Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Shawn LaTourette, said. They carry water to a mix of homes, businesses and other properties, though the exact number of people affected is unclear.
Just how quickly the replacements will take, though, isn't clear. And in the meantime, the letter offers 11 steps people can take to reduce exposure to lead, starting with running cold water to flush lead out.
LaTourette sought to tamp down concern that might accompany the notifications.
“I think it’s a possibility that folks could panic, could be worried and part of what we want to do ... is to assure the public that we are on the job,” he said.
There could be more households getting notifications, as well as about 500 community water systems that will conduct the legally required inventory to determine whether they have lead pipes. About 1 million pipes are undetermined, according to environmental officials.
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The cost of replacement is likely to be distributed to utility ratepayers or homeowners. Under the 2021 law, publicly owned water utilities can pass the costs onto individual homeowners or through the base of ratepayers overall. Water utilities owned by private investors cannot individually bill homeowners and will spread the cost through the base of ratepayers under the law, the commissioner said.
New Jersey's law requires the replacements to be completed by 2031. The law was enacted as a way to get a handle of the number of lead pipes in the state's infrastructure and to remove the hazardous substance.
LaTourette, though, highlighted that lead pipes are not the only risk for exposure to the substance, which is also found in older paints and sometimes in the soil.
The $1 trillion federal infrastructure bill could defray some of the cost of replacement, with New Jersey slated to get $1 billion over five years. That, though, is well short of the estimated $30 billion it will take to overhaul the state's water infrastructure, LaTourette has said.
He's urged water utilities to come to stakeholder meetings the department is setting up to apply for federal funds.
The letters will be distributed by Feb. 22, the commissioner said, with some likely already in the mail.
Community activists advocating for clean water said residents have a right to be concerned about their drinking water and urged them to turn any worry into an opportunity to make sure the state and utilities follow through on the promise to replace the lead pipes.
“This is a time for us to be clear that our water is nonnegotiable,” said Pastor Willie Francois, of the Mount Zion Baptist Church in Pleasantville and president of the nonprofit Black Church Center for Justice and Equality. “I consider water a sacred right. I consider water a sacred resource. ... We shouldn't have to worry about how this is poisoning us.”
Thursday's announcement comes less than a week after Newark, the state's biggest city, hosted Vice President Kamala Harris and announced it had replaced more than 20,000 lead drinking water pipes in under three years instead of the expected 10.