Gov. Phil Murphy held a press conference to talk about the short and long-term plans regarding lead in Newark’s water. Work has begun on Keer avenue where lead pipes is being replaced with copper piping.
Two summers ago, a typically underground problem exploded into national controversy when water filters in Newark failed to remove lead from residents’ tap water.
Headlines compared New Jersey’s largest city to a notorious water crisis years earlier in Flint, Michigan.
Officials all the way up to Gov. Phil Murphy acknowledged the lead pipes that tainted Newark’s water were not just in the city, but in homes — and hundreds of schools — across the state. It was a decades-old problem that New Jersey had repeatedly failed to fix.
Alongside advocates for clean water and children’s health, leaders pledged to make change.
Now, environmental advocates say, New Jersey is at a turning point when it comes to eradicating lead, a dangerous metal used in older pipes and paint that can permanently damage a child’s brain.
Newark is on the verge of completing its lead pipe replacement program, removing more than 20,000 pipes in about two years. For comparison, Flint has replaced about 10,000 pipes in five years.
And lead pipes across the state would be replaced with safer plumbing in the next decade under a bill that lawmakers are expected to send to the governor on Thursday.
New Jersey would be just the third state to mandate replacement of lead pipes, according to the Environmental Defense Fund.
“The lead service line replacement bill is a revolutionary step forward in making New Jersey lead-free,” said Chris Sturm, managing director of policy and water at New Jersey Future.
Sturm said replacing lead pipes “is the most important step toward safe drinking water.”
“We’ve come a long way,” she added.
Replacing lead pipes
There are an estimated 350,000 lead service lines in New Jersey, among the highest of any state, according to the Environmental Defense Fund.
The bill headed to Murphy’s desk requires a complete inventory of those pipes and requires water utilities to replace 10% of the pipes every year over 10 years. Utilities can seek an extension for another 5 years, for a total replacement timeline of 15 years, if needed, the bill says.
Private and government water utilities, according to the bill, could increase rates to pay for replacement of lead service lines, which are the pipes that run underground from water mains and into homes.