Property owners in New Jersey may learn much more quickly if tests show high levels of lead flowing through the pipes bringing water into their homes.
Current law requires water companies and utilities to alert customers within 60 days if tests show lead contamination. New Jersey lawmakers on Monday moved to cut that time down to 10 days.
The legislation, which was unanimously approved by the state Senate, was part of a group of bills that address the threat of lead in water and was the first to gain traction in Trenton. Lawmakers have pledged swift action to remove the threat of lead-tainted water after allowing more than 30 bills to linger without final votes in recent years.
The bill requires water companies and utilities that detect lead above a certain level to notify all their customers, as well as municipal governments and local health agencies, within 10 days. The notice would include information on how lead harms individuals and ways to reduce and remove the toxic metal. It also requires landlords to pass on the notice to their tenants.
It is meant to help the public better understand when their water is dangerous in a state that has for decades grappled with providing lead-free water to schools and homes. It follows a report by the Trenton Bureau of the USA TODAY NETWORK New Jersey that 250,000 children were at risk of drinking lead-tainted water in public schools, and a high-profile problem in Newark last summer when officials found that water filters were not properly working.
"Especially in our urban and urban-rim communities, apartment owners are getting notices and not sharing that information with their tenants," said Sen. Troy Singleton, D-Burlington, the sponsor of the bill, S-968. "Folks are not having a true understanding of what is the quality of water in their building. This is designed to make sure that everyone, whether you’re a tenant or owner, get the same information."
The bill will need to be passed by the Assembly before it goes to Gov. Phil Murphy for a signature to become law.
It would apply to the more than 580 public water systems in the state, from mega companies owned by investors, like Suez and New Jersey American Water, to smaller municipally owned utilities and water authorities, according to the nonpartisan Office of Legislative Services. The office estimated the bill would result in a marginal cost increase to state and local governments to meet the tighter notice deadline.
Currently, under the federal Lead and Copper Rule, those water providers must periodically test for lead and deliver educational materials to customers within 60 days if more than 10% of tests show lead above the federal standard. The standard is 15 parts per billion, which is roughly equal to 15 drops of water in an Olympic pool, and is the federally adopted level above which action is required to keep lead from getting into water.
Even small amounts of lead can build up in the body and cause irreversible harm to children and fetuses. Lead, which cannot be seen in water, can lower a child's ability to pay attention, reduce academic achievement and cause behavioral problems, according to the New Jersey Department of Health. Consuming a lot of lead can cause kidney damage, vomiting and reductions in birth weight.
Lead was used in water pipes and solder until it was banned by the federal government more than 30 years ago, but it can still be found in older homes across the state. Lead used in paint, which can be consumed by children, poses a greater risk to a child's health.
Singleton sponsored another bill that would require all lead pipes running to homes and schools around the state to be replaced within 10 years. That bill needs to be vetted before the Senate Budget Committee. Another bill waiting for a vote in the Legislature would require homeowners to replace lead pipes before selling their homes.
And recently Murphy announced a trio of reforms that would better track and notify parents when there's a problem in schools. The governor also said he would support a $500 million bond measure to remove lead pipes, a cost that would add to the $825 million in bonds the state has begun issuing for other projects such as library improvements and school security upgrades.