Edison, NJ –  On Monday, the New Jersey Assembly Environment and Solid Waste Committee will be hearing testimony on a bill requiring public water systems to provide customers with information regarding lead in drinking water.   

The bill, entitled the  “Lead Education, Accountability, and Disclosure Act (L.E.A.D.)”  would require public water systems to include information on lead in drinking water in their annual Consumer Confidence Reports.  Additionally, if passed, public water systems would also be required to disclose information on the possible sources of lead in drinking water, including  lead service lines, pipes, and fixtures. The bill would also require public water systems to tell customers about the health effects of lead in drinking water  and measures a customer can take to reduce or eliminate lead in tap water.

“New Jersey is a very old state, and it was an industrial state, so we have had over the years issues with lead in the water, lead in the soil, lead in the paint,” said Assemblywoman Nancy Pinkin (D-Middlesex), who chairs the Environment and Solid Waste Committee  committee.  “For years we’ve tested all children between 18 months and 6 years of age- we test them, you know actually stick a needle in their arm, not like a finger stick, but a real blood test, to see if they have lead,because we know it has an impact on their brain.” said Ms. Pinkin.  

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Assemblyman Raj Mukherji (D-Hudson), one of the bill’s sponsors, stated “I’m optimistic that this bill is going to move through the process swiftly, as it should. And we’re actually calling the bill L.E.A.D, which is Lead, Education, Accountability and Disclosure Act, and it’s simply requiring the water systems to inform their paying customers about the presence of lead in their drinking water, we all have a right to know this.”

“ I serve on the joint legislative task force on drinking water infrastructure, and we were looking at a variety of issues from water affordability to infrastructure, and this was really to make sure that the public and consumers are informed about the presence of lead in drinking water,” he said.  

Mr. Mukherji also cited recent action by the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection against the New Jersey chapter of SUEZ Water Company as one example of the need for his legislation.

“They got informed by the DEP that they were not in compliance with existing law, as a matter of fact, and that’s not acceptable. Lead can cause brain damage, kidney damage, can interfere with the production of red blood cells, and lead in drinking water puts babies and young kids and pregnant women at the greatest risk,and that’s obviously something of great concern,” he said.

In January, Suez said that water samples from multiple homes and buildings in Bergen and Hudson counties served by its water treatment plant in Haworth showed high levels of lead. According to the company, 108 samples were collected at residences served by Suez Hackensack between July 16, 2018 and December 12, 2018, and 15 of the results exceeded the Lead Action Level of 15 ppb. The company stated that “the likely source of lead in the drinking water is from the service lines, pipes that extend from the water mains to the homes and businesses, and from lead fixtures in customer homes.”  NJDEP said that the state issued Suez a notice of noncompliance on Jan. 7 requiring the company to evaluate the performance of its corrosion control treatment at the Haworth plant.

“I think this bill stands on its own, but I mean I think it is best practices and obviously we are concerned a lot of people got notices about lead in their water and one of the utilities is under pressure to replace old lead pipes, so I think that that’s a great anecdote illustrating why this legislation makes sense,” said Mr. Mukherji.

Exposure to lead, at even low levels, can have dangerous consequences. Lead enters the bloodstream and can quickly build up to toxic levels. This can cause damage to the brain and other vital organs.

Children can be at greatest risk for lead poisoning, according to Edison based pediatrician Nimisha Shukla, since they absorb more lead into their bodies than adults.

“Lead is actually poisonous to children because it affects their brain development, which is the worst side effect, and that’s why in children it leads to more devastating effects compared to adults. It can lead to developmental disabilities, learning disabilities and apart from the neural side effects, children can also get abdominal pain, constipation, sometimes rashes, they can sometimes have anemia. So there are multiple side effects of lead,” said Dr. Shukla.

Lead can disrupt the normal growth and development of a child’s brain and central nervous system. This in turn may affect the ability to pay attention, academic achievement, and behavioral problems.

The New Jersey Department of Health estimates that 20% or more of human exposure to lead may come from lead in drinking water. According to the Department, that number is even higher for formula-fed infants, who may receive 40-60% of their lead exposure from drinking water containing lead.  

Childhood lead poisoning is preventable, but in 2017, approximately 4,800 children, or 2.4 percent of children tested, were identified with having elevated blood lead levels, according to the New Jersey Department of Health. Nationwide, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that  approximately half a million U.S children have blood lead levels above 5 micrograms per deciliter, the reference level at which CDC recommends public health actions be initiated.  

Lead exposure during pregnancy can cause reductions in birthweight or premature birth. Lead is also harmful to adults and can cause cardiovascular complications, decreased kidney function, and reproductive complications, both in men and women.

“There are published consumer confidence reports, and that’s basically a quality report on drinking water and I think the people of New Jersey have a right to know whether there are contaminants in the water they are drinking -  I think it’s common sense.” said Mr. Mukherji.

Factors that contribute to lead entering water include the chemistry of the water and the types of minerals in the water, the amount of lead it comes into contact with, the temperature of the water, the amount of wear in the pipes, how long the water stays in the pipes, and the presence of protective scales or coating inside the plumbing materials.

“One of the difficulties with identifying lead in the water is that sometimes the lead could be in the water source, let’s say you have a water reservoir, so the question is, is the water in the reservoir or is it somewhere from the reservoir to someone’s house. And if somebody owns the house, the individual is responsible for the pipes from their house to the main water line. So sometimes it’s hard to tell where the lead is coming from, when they do have lead,” said Ms. Pinkin.

Since lead is not visible and is odorless, testing is the only way to see if water contains harmful quantities of lead. For more information on how to test your water, click here.