Lead and Drinking Water in New Jersey

Kim Gaddy_Kids_Newark

The lead crisis in Flint, Michigan; Newark, New Jersey and across the country signals a serious need to reexamine national and state drinking water policies, repair and update our crumbling water infrastructure, and make sure sure we reduce lead at the tap, especially where children are concerned.

Clean Water Action believes that if we truly want to protect our water, we need to put drinking water first. This has guided us for more than 40 years as we have partnered with communities and government at all levels to find solutions to our most pressing challenges, including lead and drinking water.

Nationally, we support the "True LEADership Act," a package of bills that would bring increased investment to our nation's aging drinking water infrastructure, improve testing and transparency, and lead to better drinking water quality. We also urge the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to take action to strengthen drinking water protection and ensure that the Safe Drinking Water Act Lead and Copper Rule are being properly implemented.

In New Jersey, we are working with the City of Newark and schools to conduct testing and develop a more sustainable system of distribution of clean water to students and staff than plastic water bottles. We also support the Smart Container Act (A2281), which would create a $.10 deposit on plastic bottles and dedicate revenue raised from uncollected deposits to water infrastructure projects needed across our state, including public schools. 

We are concerned that commitments to address lead in water in schools is not an ongoing priority and will push to remedy this problem. Kim Gaddy, our environmental justice organizer who was recently re-elected to the Newark school board, was instrumental in the initial 1992-3 school board decision to turn off lead contaminated water fountains in Newark public schools and ensure that a better fountain maintenance program was established in 2002. Today, she is working on recommendations that are transparent and involve the community on what actions need to be taken to address the lead in drinking water problem.

Clean Water Action will continue to be a resource for communities to stay informed, protected, and get involved. Learn more below or contact us at 732-963-9714 and njcwa@cleanwater.org for more information.

New Jersey Lead and Drinking Water Resources:

National Website: www.cleanwateraction.org/features/lead-and-drinking-water

New Jersey Door Hanger: PDF iconNJ_Doorhanger_Lead_07.30.18a.pdf

Lead Video: Lead Poisoning: What You Need to Know. Amy Goldsmith speaking at Red Bank Public Library, October 11, 2018

Press Releases & News:

Clean Water Action's Statement on Newark's decision to provide water filters to residents with lead service lines, Press Release, October 12, 2018

High Lead Levels in Newark Taps, Press Release, June 26, 2018

'How much of this have I consumed?' Residents forced to install lead filters to drink, Star Ledger, November 13, 2018

Kim Gaddy, the environmental justice organizer for Clean Water Action, said her organization will be going door to door with the consultant that the city hired to do the water study. "We're getting calls from folks that don't know how to install it," Gaddy said. "It's too serious of an issue to think you're protected, but your filter is not working," Gaddy said.

Elevated lead levels in Newark water have advocates worried, NJTV News, By Michael Hill [VIDEO], September 29, 2017

It’s a dispute that boils down to this: Is Newark complying with EPA rules for lead in the city’s drinking water? “Well, right now, the city is not in compliance,” said Kim Gaddy, Clean Water Actionenvironmental justice organizer.

Op-Ed: It's Not Just Lead - NJ's Drinking Water Crisis, NJ Spotlight, By David Pringle, May 9, 2016

In the midst of this sinking ship is drinking water. Lead in the drinking water of the state’s older schools is just the tip of the iceberg, and Gov. Chris Christie’s response to date -- to deny, deflect, and delay -- is woefully inadequate and consistent with his administration’s overall policies to weaken water protections.

Newark schools water crisis shines light on larger N.J. lead issues, advocates say, The Star Ledger, By Dan Ivers, March 14, 2016

Kim Gaddy, an environmental justice coordinator for the New Jersey chapter of Clean Water Action and a current candidate for Newark's School Advisory Board, said Newark schools have taken a patchwork approach to dealing with possible contamination dating back decades. She cited another lead scare more than 20 years ago, when dangerous lead levels in the water supplies at Harriet Tubman Elementary School and other aging buildings that came to light in 1993. Star-Ledger archives indicate the time indicates the district committed approximately $400,000 to remediate those issues. "This is like déjà vu," Gaddy said. "The DEP and our governor probably knew about this sooner than they let us know. This is something that should not have happened in 2016."

Water Advocates Issue ‘Workplan’ to Help With Massive System Upgrade, NJ Spotlight, By Jon Hurdle, April 28, 2016

But David Pringle, New Jersey campaign director for the environmental nonprofit Clean Water Action -- which is represented on the Jersey Water Works steering committee -- said the problem can’t be properly fixed unless the legislature and the governor get serious about doing so. “The real challenge here is that our government is broken,” Pringle said. “There’s lots of good policies out there but the governor and the legislature are fiddling while Rome is burning. We can have the best-laid plans but until we get the government acting we’re not going to solve the problem.”

What Will It Take To Repair NJ's Ailing Water Infrastructure? By Tom Johnson, NJ Spotlight, April 28, 2016

This administration especially, but others as well, are guilty of being (missing in action) when it comes to protecting our drinking water,’’ said David Pringle, campaign director for Clean Water Action, one of the state’s largest environmental organizations. To some advocates, like Pringle, the state’s drinking water problems go beyond the water infrastructure to include what they perceive as a weakening of regulations to protect the source of potable water from rivers and streams in the New Jersey Highlands.

Newark School Board Candidate: ‘I Fault the Governor’, PolitickerNJ, By Max Pizarro, 03/09/16

High levels of lead in the Newark Public Schools have officials in cap-lamp and hip-wader mode, trying to get to the bottom of the contamination, but if you’re running for a school advisory board seat in the April 19th electtion, this might be a good time for someone with some clean water expertise. • That’s Kim Gaddy, who’s been on the staff of Clean Water Action NJ for 15 years. “Our children cannot be educated if our schools are not healthy,” an outraged Gaddy told PolitickerNJ.

Lead Scare Over Water in Newark Schools Underscores NJ's Toxic Problem, NJ Spotlight, By Tom Johnson, 3/10/2016

For Kim Gaddy, a former school board member who is seeking another term, the results are an “outrage.’’ When she first served on the board in the early 1990s, the school system’s 80 buildings were found to have high levels of lead. Her own godson was diagnosed with lead poisoning. “I feel very disappointed they (school officials and the state) have allowed this to rise again,’’ said Gaddy, who is environmental organizer for Clean Water Action, one of the state’s largest environmental groups. , “What matters most is how much lead is getting into the body,’’ said David Pringle, campaign director of Clean Water Action. “We already know it is already happening in Newark.’’

Newark Schools Shut Off Water Taps In 30 Buildings: Elevated Lead Found, DEP Says, Patch.com, By Eric Kiefer, 3/9/2016

"As a Newark public school parent, environmental professional, and former School Board member, my heart goes out to my fellow Newarkers," said Kim Gaddy, Clean Water Action's NJ Environmental Justice Organizer and a current candidate for Newark’s School Advisory Board. "It appears the most immediate situation has been dealt with but a lot more work needs to be done here," continued Gaddy. "This is deja vu all over again. We had this problem when I was on the board over 20 years ago. Newark has a role to play but the state really needs to step up, learn from the experiences of today, and do a much better job managing and avoiding such situations moving forward."

It Is Time to Unify Around the Health and Education of Newark’s Children, Politicker NJ, By Kim Gaddy, March 18, 201

Last week, we learned that toxic levels of lead were reported in our district school’s drinking water. This is unacceptable. For the many of us who were born in Newark, who grew up here, and chose to raise our families in the city, the reaction from so many of us has been clear. There is frustration, anger, and fear. But unfortunately, few of us are actually surprised. Newark is facing déjà vu all over again. Let us not forget, Newark’s school water reported dangerous levels of lead 20 years ago.

Kim Gaddy testifies at the NJ State House (Youtube video), April 4, 2016 at 16:40 in.

The Love a Mother - The Story of Clean Water Activist D. Kim Gaddy,The Positive Community, Page 42, By Quinita Edmonia Goods

LISTEN: "Safe Water/Safe Cities" Panel Discussion, WNYC, April 29, 2016

National Lead and Drinking Water News:

A lead weight, The Globe and Mail, May 4, 2016

“There’s a very good lesson here about the decisions we make now,” says Lynn Thorp, national campaigns director for the advocacy group Clean Water Action. “We knew a hundred years ago that lead posed enormous health challenges, and we still allowed it to become a big part of our infrastructure, and we see now this lasting legacy that we have to clean up for generations. “That should make us think about how we make similar decisions today.”

Unsafe Lead Levels in Tap Water Not Limited to Flint, New York Times, By Michael Wines and John Schwartz, Feb . 8, 2016

“We need an aggressive program to get rid of lead service lines, starting with an inventory so we know where they are,” said Lynn Thorp, the national campaigns director for Clean Water Action, an advocacy group. “Water systems need to up their game and take this problem more seriously.”

Lead water pipes still a concern in Boston area,The Boston Globe, By Matt Rocheleau, Feb. 11, 2016

Thorp said she hoped the Flint case would spur greater awareness of how water systems around the country still need improvement.“We do tend to get complacent around many drinking water issues because we’ve made so much progress in this country,” she said. “We tend to only react when there’s a crisis revealed. We need to be much more proactive . . . and not just react when there’s a crisis.”

What’s in our water? We examine the quality of Southern Nevada’s most precious resource, Las Vegas Sun, By Megan Messerly, Monday, March 21, 2016

Should residents be afraid to drink local tap water? “No, absolutely not,” said Lynn Thorp, national campaigns director at Clean Water Action, a national citizens’ organization working for clean, safe, affordable water. “We enjoy some of the highest-quality tap water in the world,” Thorp said. “People should not, by any means, be afraid to drink it.” Thorp agreed that more sophisticated water authorities, like Las Vegas’, might have the ability to detect compounds at smaller concentrations than smaller water systems with less sophisticated technology. That the valley’s systems are in compliance with EPA standards is a good sign, Thorp said. While EPA regulations aren’t perfect, they’re set through a fairly detailed process that aims to protect human health while still considering cost, industry and economy and the capabilities of municipal authorities. “It’s not like very many of our water systems have sources that are so pristine that they don’t need treatment,” Thorp said.

Mass. earmarks $2 million to test for lead in public schools’ water, The Boston Globe, By Matt Rocheleau , April 26, 2016

Joel Wool, an activist at Clean Water Action, a group that advocates for safe, affordable water, said the state funding for testing is a critical, “forward-thinking” step. “We’re happy to see some real focus on this,” Wool said. But testing is probably just going to be the beginning of tackling the problem, he said. “Ultimately, we’re going to have to figure out a way to fund repairs and upgrades to the infrastructure in our schools so that the drinking water for every kid in every school is safe,” Wool said.

Snyder proposes tougher regulations for lead in water, Detroit News, By Chad Livengood, April 15, 2016

“The Flint Water Interagency Coordinating Committee’s recommendations are bold and would make Michigan a national leader in reducing lead exposure at the tap and protecting public health,” Clean Water Action spokesman Michael Kelly said. “We look forward to working in Michigan and nationwide to put drinking water first — making drinking water protection, treatment and distribution a number one concern of government at all levels.”

Obama’s EPA set to draft drinking water action plan, Detroit News, By Chad Livengood, April 26, 2016

“We are encouraged to see an integrated approach to drinking water issues — this is exactly what EPA needs to do,” said Michael Kelly, spokesman for Clean Water Action in Washington, D.C. “It will ensure that action to protect our water, invest in water systems, and put drinking water first are a main concern for elected officials and regulators. If the recent water crises in Flint, Toledo and Charleston (South Carolina) have shown us anything, it’s that our drinking water infrastructure needs to be a top public priority.”

Health impacts of lead:

  • Children under six are most at risk from lead poisoning.
  • Exposure to high levels of lead can cause severe damage to the brain, blood and kidneys.
  • Even low levels of lead exposure have been found to permanently reduce cognitive ability and cause hyperactivity in children.
  • Long term exposure can cause reproductive harm and infertility.
  • Pregnant women are susceptible to lead, as exposure can harm the fetus, reducing growth rates and causing premature birth and/or miscarriage.

Health Impacts of Lead - graphic

Reducing Lead at the Tap

There are a number of ways that water systems work to reduce lead in drinking water:

  • Stop using lead pipes, fixtures and solder: Current regulation requires that all new pipes and fixtures be “lead-free” - containing less than 0.25% lead (weighted average).
  • Replace lead service lines: There are roughly 6 million lead service lines (LSL’s) in the US. Roughly 30% of the country’s water systems contain LSL’s, serving and estimated 15 to 22 million people. Many water systems have taken steps to remove LSL’s and since the Lead and Copper Rule was adopted in 1991, the number of LSL’s has been reduced by roughly 40%.
  • Reduce corrosion and check water chemistry: A critical part of modern drinking water treatment is minimizing corrosion to keep lead out of drinking water and to address other issues. Corrosion Control Treatment (CCT) is especially important where there are LSL’s. CCT varies from water system to water system based on the age of pipes and service lines, where the drinking water comes from and its chemistry, and the size of the system.

You can reduce risk of lead exposure from drinking water in your home too. First, understand whether you may be at risk of lead exposure in your home.

  • Learn about lead levels in your water system: Every year, by July 1, your water system is required by law to prepare a Consumer Confidence Report (CCR), which includes information on lead monitoring results. For more information and help finding your CCR: https://www.epa.gov/ccr
  • Have your water tested: If you are concerned about lead in your tap water you can test your water for lead and other contaminants. Some water systems will provide lead testing for their customers.  Others will provide information on local laboratories and other resources. There are low cost tests available. EPA fact sheet on testing

If there is lead in your drinking water , there are ways to reduce exposure:

  • Flush your pipes before drinking. The longer water sits in pipes, the more lead it may contain.  Running the water until becomes as cold as possible can help ensure that you are drinking water that has not been sitting still in your pipes. This can take 5-30 seconds if there has been recent water use from that faucet, up to two minutes if not.
  • Use cold water for drinking and eating. Cold water is less likely to contain lead. Note: Boiling water will not get rid of lead contamination.
  • Use water filters or treatment devices: Only specific products are designed to reduce lead contamination. Please make sure that the  product you use is designed for the specific problem you are hoping to address.