BELLEVILLE, NJ - Township officials believe the downward trend in trace amounts of lead levels in the municipal tap water confirms that Newark’s new treatment protocol is working as expected.
Previous testing showed that while lead levels have been elevated, they have consistently remained far below New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) standards that would trigger remedial action.
As per DEP’s requirements, Belleville must take a minimum of 60 water samples twice a year from single-family residences with lead service pipes. The Township actually takes more samples than are required and tests quarterly.
An analysis of the June 2019 samples showed that the highest level of lead was 168 parts per billion (ppb). The average value was 11 ppb and the median value was 6 ppb.
When retested in December, those lead levels dropped to a high reading of 65 ppb, an average reading of 8 ppb and a median of 4 ppb.
The federal action level standard is 15 ppb of lead, which is about equal to 15 drops of water in an Olympic-sized swimming pool. If that standard is exceeded, the Township must notice residents. In the Township’s recent tests, while the average reading was 8 ppb and a median of 4 ppb, the 90% percentile came in at 16 ppb. Even though it is a downward trend and shows progress, the Township is still mandated to notice residents.
“The numbers indicate that the treatment is working and that it is reducing the leeching of the lead into residential service lines,” Mayor Michael Melham said. “We are cautiously optimistic, but we will continue to monitor the water just as we have since high levels of lead were first detected in Pequannock-based Newark drinking water last summer.”
New Jersey lawmakers seem to be paying closer attention to the quality of tap water in Belleville and other municipalities across the state, Melham said.
Although current law requires water companies and utilities to alert customers within 60 days if tests reveal lead contamination, legislation introduced earlier this week would require them to notify their customers and the local municipalities within 10 days.
While that is welcomed news, Melham said the Township remains vigilant.
“I will continue to fight for the safety and welfare of Belleville residents,” Melham said. “I’m pleased that all signs show that the orthophosphate being deployed to coat the pipes is working. We expect to see the traces of lead continue to fall when our water is tested again in June.”
Albeit a short-term solution, Belleville recently provided free water filters to Belleville’s most vulnerable, strictly out of an abundance of caution.
The Mayor is committed to a long term, permanent solution, and has promised to unveil a comprehensive residential lead service line replacement program during his State of the Township Speech in May.