Gottheimer Calls for Boost in Action to Address Dangerous Lead Water in Homes and Schools
Governor Should Enforce School Lead Water Reporting
Gottheimer addresses lead water affecting children and families, homes and schools
DUMONT, NJ – Today, June 18, 2019, U.S. Congressman Josh Gottheimer (NJ-5) called for concrete and immediate steps to address North Jersey’s widespread lead water problem in too many homes and schools that are putting at risk the health and safety of our children and families.
In January, a NorthJersey.com article reported that elevated levels of lead had been found in drinking water in homes in Bergen and Hudson counties.
In March, SUEZ, the private water utility that owns the lead service lines, announced they would be replacing nine miles of pipes in the eight towns with the most lead service lines.
Today, Gottheimer toured one of the active work sites in Dumont and sounded the alarm on the urgent need to protect families and communities from the harmful effects of lead water exposure.
Gottheimer noted he recently heard from a young mother and father of an infant in Oradell who discovered their home was within a lead water service area. Their water tested at 186 parts per billion (ppb) lead, which is over ten times the EPA’s federal threshold of 15ppb. Their baby thankfully passed recent medical tests, but SUEZ has only provided the family with a Brita filter, which lasts six months.
Today, Gottheimer called on SUEZ to speed up the execution of their plan of action and agreement with the State of New Jersey, which includes steps to fix the issue, including testing corrosion control water treatment system, creating a new water quality website for updates and information on elevated lead levels, and providing Brita filters to households with elevated lead levels.
Gottheimer also called on SUEZ to accelerate their plan to fix pipes, to further educate the community on the risk of lead water, and to provide a comprehensive plan to fully replace our community’s lead pipes.
Gottheimer also wrote to Governor Murphy today asking, once again, that’s the state enforce New Jersey’s laws requiring annual lead water testing in schools and public release of that data. Only then will parents have the information they deserve about their children’s possible exposure to lead.
“SUEZ has taken the first of what I hope are many to address this contamination, but to be clear, Brita filters and promises of upgrades to our water pipes aren’t enough,” said Congressman Gottheimer (NJ-5). “We need to see decisive, long-term action in our communities. We cannot wait while our children and families continue to be exposed to harmful water — in our homes and our schools. We must do everything we can here in North Jersey to ensure our children and families have clean water that’s safe to drink.”
“Congressman Gottheimer has been a real leader in combating New Jersey’s lead problem in our drinking water. Today’s event is just another example of his efforts, drawing attention to the urgency of replacing lead service lines. It is critical that water companies like Suez move as quickly as possible to protect our most precious resources, our water and our children. Lead in our water can cause serious health issues and developmental defects, especially in children. There are 57 communities in Bergen and Hudson counties alone that have tested with elevated lead levels in their tap water, servicing nearly 800,000 people. The polluted water is getting into our homes and our schools. This is a $2.3 billion lead problem that needs to fixed immediately,” said Jeff Tittel, Director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. “What’s happening in New Jersey is what happened in Flint, Michigan. Lead leaches out the pipes and into our water, especially affecting children. We cannot allow that to continue, or get worse. Those pipes must be replaced. We thank Congressman Gottheimer for being a leader to get the lead out.”
*Suez released the following statement here.
View the letter to the Governor here.
Video of the announcement can be found here.
Click here if you want to know if you have a lead service line.
Gottheimer’s full remarks as prepared for delivery are below.
We’re here in Dumont today to sound the alarm on a threat to the health and safety of our families in our homes and schools — dangerously elevated lead levels in drinking water in our homes and schools — and the clear steps we must immediately take to eliminate it.
Thank you to SUEZ for being here today and for the initial steps you’ve taken to resolve this issue. But, as you know, Brita filters and promises of upgrades to our water pipes aren’t enough. We have to be doing more, and we have to work faster. We need to see decisive action, like what is happening behind me, in more of our communities.
We simply cannot wait while our children and families continue to be exposed to harmful water in our homes and in our schools.
We’ve got a real problem here in northern New Jersey.
In January, SUEZ reported that dangerously high levels of lead were found in 16 out of 108 homes tested across Hudson and Bergen Counties. Disturbingly, all of these homes receive their water from the Haworth Water Treatment Plant here in the Fifth District — which, according to the Star-Ledger, serves nearly 800,000 residents in fifty-seven towns across northern New Jersey.
As soon as I heard that, I called for immediate action to address the threat of lead in our drinking water. I spoke with and sent a letter to the SUEZ North America CEO — and asked for his commitment to address the lead contamination.
This past week, we heard from a young mother and father of an infant in Oradell, who both lie awake at night worried about their baby. And, I get that – I’m a parent, too. They’ve been exposed to extremely high levels of lead in their home, and while their baby, thankfully, passed recent medical tests. When it comes to their drinking water, they understandably don’t feel safe in their own home.
When they bought their home in Oradell, they didn’t know that they had moved into a lead water service area. They immediately had their water tested, and it was 186 parts per billion (ppb) lead, which is more than ten times the EPA’s federal threshold. The EPA begins taking action if the lead in your water is over 15 parts per billion.
SUEZ sent them a Brita filter, which lasts six months. Clearly, long term, that’s obviously not the long-term fix to this problem.
I’ve heard stories like this time and again from families within the Haworth Water Treatment District.
And it’s not just here. We’ve all read the paper about lead in our schools’ water fountains and cafeteria sinks. Headlines like, “Elevated Lead Levels Found in Drinking Water in Bergen, Hudson County Homes” and “Elevated Lead Found in Water in Six of Seven Bergenfield Public Schools.”
And we know that impact lead can have on our children’s health – their development can be delayed, they face learning disabilities, and become prone to appetite and weight loss. Young children are particularly vulnerable because they absorb four to five times as much ingested lead as adults. In the worst cases, children develop permanent damage to their kidneys and nervous systems. Children can experience seizures, hearing loss, and vomiting. And the greatest risk is to brain development, with subtle, irreversible damage. It’s no wonder parents are worried.
Here’s the deal: Lead exposure in our water is entirely preventable and solvable. So, what do we need to do?
First, I’m calling on SUEZ to double down on its commitment. Per their agreement with the State, SUEZ has announced steps they’re taking to fix the issue, including testing their corrosion control water treatment system, creating a new water quality website to provide updates and information about elevated lead levels, and providing Brita filters to those households with elevated lead levels.
I’m asking SUEZ to move faster to execute their plan of action of fixing the pipes in our towns like this one. I’m happy to help Suez work with our towns and mayors if they hit any red tape or other roadblocks along the way.
Second, there needs to be more done to let customers know that lead water is an issue. SUEZ needs to be more involved in the community, educating families in clear language about their water. Children like the family I mentioned are coming into contact with high levels of lead water, not only drinking water, but also in the shower and bathtub, and their families may not even know it.
We also need a regular an update on how the lead testing is going. I know customers can self-test or they can have the test sent in. But I think we should have regular, public updates on their progress?
Third, I’d like to know what the comprehensive plan is to fully replace the lead pipes in all of our communities? Informing customers that there may be lead in their water is only the first step. There needs to be a more comprehensive plan in place to fully halt the problem — and that means replacing all our lead pipes. SUEZ has announced that they plan to replace 25% of their lead pipes by the end of this year. I won’t let up until we see that this happens and I’ll be closely monitoring additional progress in the years ahead. Any pipe leading to a home built before 1988 could have lead pipes.
Fourth, as I mentioned, I’ve also heard from many parents about lead in the drinking water at schools. Today, I am sending a letter to Governor Murphy, calling, once again, for our own laws to be enforced, so that parents are informed about lead in their child’s school. Current New Jersey’s law requires annual testing in schools and public release of that data. That law, for no reason that I can understand, isn’t being enforced – and that’s just unacceptable.
Why does this matter? In 2017, it was reported that only 95 school districts out of nearly 600 in New Jersey had forwarded information describing positive lead test results to the Department of Education. These reports show that among those 95 districts, more than 300 schools had tested positive for lead. In these 95 districts, at least 14,598 water outlets were tested, and of those outlets tested, 8.1 percent exceeded the threshold for lead in drinking water.
Our children and our families deserve to know if there is lead in their school water. I hope the Governor will take immediate action.
I’m not just frustrated, I’m fed up. And this issue is also affecting children nationwide, beyond our state. We obviously saw it, at its worst, in Flint. Since 2012, nearly 2,000 water systems across the U.S. have found elevated lead levels in tap water samples. A Government Accountability Office (GAO) study recently found that only 43% of school districts nation-wide tested for lead in the most recent two year reporting span. 41% of districts — and that’s 12 million students — had not tested, and 16% were unsure.
Finally, I will continue to fight in Washington to strengthen the bipartisan Drinking Water State Revolving Fund, which claws back federal resources to New Jersey communities to invest in safe water programs. And I’m working with Democrats and Republicans in the Problem Solvers Caucus to pass an infrastructure plan that includes addressing our aging water systems.
Every prong of what I’m calling for here today is doable, practical, and possible to accomplish. And it’s what we must do, here in North Jersey, to make sure our children and families have clean water that’s safe to drink.
These steps moving forward help ensure that, here in the greatest country in the world, our best days will always be ahead of us and that our families and children will be safe and healthy. Thank you. God bless you, and may God continue to bless the United States of America.