TRENTON, NJ (AP) — Thousands of New Jersey households will soon be told their residences have lead service lines and will be replaced within the next decade under a 2021 state law, have environmental regulators announced Thursday.
The 186,000 plumb lines are not in a single city, town or county, but across the state, Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Shawn LaTourette said. They are carrying water to a mix of homes, businesses and other properties, although the exact number of people affected is unclear.
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How quickly replacements will take, however, is unclear. And in the meantime, the letter offers 11 steps people can take to reduce lead exposure, starting with running cold water to remove the lead.
LaTourette sought to allay concerns that might accompany the notifications.
“I think it’s possible people will panic, worry and part of what we want to do…is assure the public that we’re on the job,” he said.
There could be more households receiving notifications, as well as about 500 community water systems that will perform the legally required inventory to determine if they have lead pipes. About 1 million pipes are undetermined, according to environmental officials.
The replacement cost is likely to be shared between utility subscribers or owners. Under the 2021 law, water utilities can pass on costs to individual property owners or to all ratepayers. Water utilities owned by private investors cannot bill owners individually and will apportion the cost on a ratepayer basis under the law, the commissioner said.
New Jersey law requires replacements to be completed by 2031. The law was enacted as a way to bring the number of lead pipes in the state’s infrastructure under control and eliminate the hazardous substance.
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LaTourette, however, pointed out that lead pipes aren’t the only risk of exposure to the substance, which is also found in older paintwork and sometimes in soil.
The $1 trillion federal infrastructure bill could cover some of the replacement cost, with New Jersey set to get $1 billion over five years. That, however, is well below the estimated $30 billion it will take to overhaul the state’s water infrastructure, LaTourette said.
He urged water utilities to come to the stakeholder meetings the department holds to apply for federal funds.
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 worry about their drinking water and urged them to turn any worry into an opportunity to ensure the state and utilities keep their promise to replace the lead pipes.
“Now is the time for us to be clear that our water is non-negotiable,” said Pastor Willie Francois, of Mount Zion Baptist Church in Pleasantville and president of the Black Church Center for Justice and Justice. Nonprofit Equality. “I consider water a sacred right. I consider water a sacred resource. … We shouldn’t have to worry about how it poisons us.
Thursday’s announcement comes less than a week after Newark, the state’s largest city, hosted Vice President Kamala Harris and announced it had replaced more than 20,000 lead drinking water pipes. in less than three years instead of the 10 planned.
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