Gov. Phil Murphy approved a plan to have every lead pipe in the state replaced in the next decade after the efforts from fall 2019 were upended by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Under Assembly Bill 5343, approved by the governor on July 22, every community water system would have six months to take stock of every lead service line and replace them within 10 years.
Those are the same pipes found in communities like Newark, where hundreds of thousands of students were affected by high levels of lead found in drinking water at the city’s schools. The city, in turn, received $120 million to replace the pipes, but state officials estimate upward of 350,000 lead pipes across New Jersey need to be replaced. That carries a price tag of $2.3 billion, according to the American Water Works Association.
Water systems could apply for another five years if they can show that they need the extra time.
“This is a crisis that has been building for decades,” Murphy said during a bill-signing ceremony in the late morning on July 22 in Bloomfield.
“Modernizing our aging water infrastructure with new lead services lines is critical in ensuring safe drinking water flows through our communities,” he added in a statement.
Lead exposure is widely documented to cause serious and detrimental health effects, especially for children, leading to brain damage, developmental delays and learning disorders. Sources of lead in the water almost always come from lead pipes, typically found in older buildings, which themselves are typically found in urban lower-income, Black and brown-majority neighborhoods.
“Whether from inhaling or ingesting lead-based paint particles or from drinking lead-contaminated tap water, lead can wreak havoc on our children and immunocompromised adults,” said Chris Sturm, the managing director of policy and water at the progressive advocacy group New Jersey Future. “By addressing both sources of lead, we can ensure that no child is held back from achieving their full potential because they were exposed to lead.”
Get the lead out
Under A5343, investor-owned utilities like Suez and New Jersey American Water can assess fees onto their customers to pay for the pipe replacements.
“These new laws will ensure that water providers are held accountable for making the necessary investments and improvements needed to keep New Jersey’s water systems safe and reliable,” reads a statement from Mark McDonough, NJAW’s president.
A second bill the governor approved on July 22 – Senate Bill 1147 – requires frequent inspection of “high-turnover” rental properties for lead paint. The bill takes effect one year after its signing, and the property would have to be inspected within two years of the bill’s enactment, or whenever the latest tenants leave the property–whichever is the soonest. Afterward, they’d have to be inspected every three years or whenever the new tenant moves out, whichever is the soonest, according to the legislation.
A third bill the governor approved – Assembly Bill 5407 – loosens the rules around local governments securing financing to pay for the replacement of lead service lines in people’s homes and apartments.
“New Jersey residents can rest assured that while lead lines are replaced DEP will be protecting their health every day by mandating all water systems to undertake proactive lead risk reduction measures,” said Shawn LaTourette, the state’s newly confirmed environmental protection commissioner.