New Jersey notifies 186,000 properties to replace lead water pipes – CBS Philly

TRENTON, NJ (AP) — Thousands of New Jersey homes will soon be notified that their residences have lead service lines and will be replaced over the next decade under a 2021 state law, environmental officials said Thursday.

The 186,000 lead lines are not in a single city or county, but are located across the state, said Shawn LaTourette, commissioner of the Environmental Protection Department. They carry 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 the replacement will take is not clear, however. And in the meantime, the letter offers 11 steps people can take to reduce lead exposure, starting with cold running water to flush the lead out.

LaTourette attempted to address concerns that might accompany the notifications.

“I think it’s possible that people will panic, worry and part of what we want to do is reassure the public that we’re on the job,” he said.

There could be more households receiving alerts, as well as about 500 municipal water systems doing the inventory required by law to determine if they have lead pipes. About 1 million pipes are unidentified, according to environmental agencies.

The cost of replacement will likely be shared with utility fee payers or homeowners. Under the 2021 law, public water utilities can pass on the costs to individual homeowners or through the tariff payer base at large. Water utilities owned by private investors cannot bill homeowners individually and will spread the costs out on the taxpayer base under the law, the commissioner said.

New Jersey law requires the exchange to be completed by 2031. The law was enacted to get a grip on the number of lead pipes in the state’s infrastructure and remove the hazardous substance.

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However, LaTourette emphasized that lead pipes are not the only risk from exposure to the substance, which is also found in older paint and sometimes in the ground.

The $1 trillion federal infrastructure bill could cover some of the replacement cost, with New Jersey set to receive $1 billion over five years. But that’s significantly less than the estimated $30 billion needed to overhaul the state’s water infrastructure, LaTourette said.

He has urged water utilities to come to advocacy meetings the department is setting up to apply for federal funding.

The letters will be distributed by February 22, the commissioner said, with some likely already in the mail.

Community activists campaigning for clean water said residents have a right to be concerned about their drinking water and urged them to turn every concern into an opportunity to ensure the state and utilities live up to the promise to replace the lead pipes.

“This is a time when we need to make it clear that our water is non-negotiable,” said Pastor Willie Francois of 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 that poisons us.”

Thursday’s announcement comes less than a week after Newark, the state’s largest city, hosted Vice President Kamala Harris and announced that she had replaced more than 20,000 lead drinking water pipes in less than three years, instead of the expected 10.

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