NJ to require more frequent lead testing in schools

Governor Phil Murphy speaks to reporters and others at an elementary school in Bergenfield last week.

Gov. Phil Murphy on Thursday called for borrowing $500 million to pay for the removal of lead paint in homes and the replacement of thousands of lead pipes across the state as part of a “comprehensive strategy” aimed at addressing the public health concern.

Murphy unveiled his plan at Thomas Edison State University in Trenton alongside a group called Jersey Water Works that unveiled its own set of recommendations, including replacing all lead pipes over 10 years.

“New Jersey must move forward with a truly comprehensive and whole-of-government approach to removing the danger of lead from our communities,” he said. “And we will.”

Earlier this month, public records from a state lead pipe inventory started this year and obtained by The Associated Press showed the state has about 160,000 lead pipes.

In the area, Stone Harbor was estimated to have more than 60% in the report, while portions of Ventnor and Margate were estimated to have more than 80%, according to public records.

Officials in the three towns did not respond to requests for comment.

Murphy’s plan comes two months after the state’s biggest city, Newark, announced that some of the filters it had handed out failed and lead was found in drinking water. Since then, the city has begun replacing about 18,000 of its lead service lines, pipes leading from water mains to residences, financed by a $120 million bond taken on by Essex County.

It’s unclear how much of the work the $500 million would cover. Estimates have suggested replacing the state’s lead pipes could cost up to $2 billion, and the price tag has been a primary hurdle to replacement in the past.

Murphy said he will seek to put the bond question, which must be approved by voters, on the ballot during next year’s presidential election.

Murphy’s plan also would add New Jersey to the list of a handful of states that require or do voluntary lead pipe inventories. He is also seeking to inventory lead paint as part of his plan. He said he would require his Cabinet to come up with a lead testing strategy, which would be made public.

The plan reflects regulations he proposed earlier this week affecting schools: He’s asking schools to increase the frequency of testing for lead in the water from every six years to every three, and for the Department of Education to come up with a database to make test results public.

How many lead pipes New Jersey has is a mystery. While the AP tallied 160,000 lead pipes, a 2016 American Water Works Association study suggested there were more than 300,000 such pipes.

AP’s tally included partial results from about three-quarters of the state’s nearly 600 water systems. Officials have said they expect the number to rise.

Stone Harbor officials refuted the report, saying in a statement the number of lead service lives was inaccurately reported by the state Department of Environmental Protection. Stone Harbor says there are about 600 lines — as opposed to the 1,800 reported.

The focus on lead comes after recent testing of Newark’s city-issued filters showed up to 99% are effective. The city is also scaling back distribution of bottled water this week.

Last spring, Newark switched the chemicals it was using to prevent lead from leaching out of pipes after tests showed the prior treatment was failing.

Jersey Water Works describes itself as a collaborative among nonprofits and private companies aimed at addressing New Jersey’s water infrastructure problems. In addition to replacing lead services lines over 10 years, the group’s recommendations include calling for a statewide public lead awareness campaign and authorizing utilities to raise rates for pipe replacements.

“For every person in New Jersey to live to their full potential, they must live in a safe, healthy environment,” said Chris Daggett, chairman of Jersey Water Works. “The dangers of lead exposure have been known for decades, but it’s still a major health risk, particularly to young children and pregnant women.”

Staff Writer Lauren Carroll contributed to this report

Staff Writer

Joined the Press in November 2016. Graduate of Quinnipiac University. Previously worked as a freelance reporter in suburban Philadelphia and news/talk radio producer.

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