Sen. Troy Singleton issued a letter to the DEP on Tuesday asking why lead levels are still high in some Bordentown homes. His office also provided indication that the water system will have to do a more in-depth study of the issue.
BORDENTOWN CITY— State Sen. Troy Singleton issued a letter Tuesday to the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, seeking heightened and “focused attention on the ongoing issue of lead contamination” in the city’s drinking water.
His office also provided a copy of DEP communications that suggest a new, comprehensive study of the water system has already been ordered by the state, although exact details were unclear and the the DEP did not respond to questions by a Thursday afternoon deadline.
The Bordentown City Water Department, which also serves Bordentown Township, has exceeded federal standards for lead in tap water in four consecutive testing periods. That includes a violation during the most recent testing period that closed June 30. Results from the period actually showed the highest levels of lead to date. Results further show that lead is not in the source water itself, but is instead showing up in dangerous amounts in at least 10% of homes.
The exact source is unclear. The city has long said it has no lead piping in its distribution system, and thus believes the toxic metal must be coming from in-home plumbing in area homes. But some residents of impacted homes have said they don’t believe they have any such pipes, and questioned whether lead could be coming from the coating of galvanized pipes in distribution lines, which can contain trace amounts of lead.
It’s an ongoing question that Singleton, D-7th of Delran, touched on in his letter.
“Where is the lead contamination coming from if, to date, no public or private lead service lines in the distribution system have been identified?” he asked. “What more can the DEP do to ensure that the drinking water in Bordentown is safe?”
Experts have said lead can come from a variety of sources in homes of all ages: piping, soldering, or even faucets and fixtures. Regardless, federal law requires public water systems to provide water that is not corrosive, so that it doesn’t leach lead wherever the metal is found.
Testing results appeared to show Bordentown’s water had corrosive properties around the time of the first lead exceedance in late 2017. The DEP and Bordentown City officials then planned and implemented a corrosion control plan, which involved adjusting the water’s pH level and adding special chemicals called orthophosphates to the water, which can help coat the inside of pipes and stop lead leaching.
But Singleton appeared to take note of recent reporting by this news organization that found some 16% of homes tested in the most recent period had elevated lead levels, and that their average lead levels had increased from prior periods. Singleton then wrote in is letter that the city’s current corrosion control treatment plan “has been ineffective.”
The DEP did not respond to a request for comment on Singleton’s letter. But in the wake of Bordentown’s latest exceedance last month, this news organization asked spokesman Larry Hajna if the corrosion control plan was working.
“NJDEP continues to work with Bordentown to evaluate the water quality and effectiveness of the corrosion control treatment,” Hajna responded at the time.
In his letter, Singleton also asked the NJDEP about “the implementation of a corrosion control study beginning next month.”
Other communities hit with lead issues, such as Brick Township and Newark, have in previous years hired outside engineers to conduct in-depth studies on their water systems. In Brick Township, the study ultimately identified a solution that helped resolve the issue, while Newark is still engaged in those efforts.
The Environmental Protection Agency provides a general guidance document to water systems hit with lead contamination to help them determine when such a study is appropriate.
Bordentown City completed the guidance document in June 2018, and it was then reviewed by NJDEP. Due to the conditions in Bordentown water system, the document recommended such a study be considered. But it was ultimately not performed. Asked why, the DEP has previously simply repeated that it instead approved the pH and orthophosphate plan.
Asked for more information about the study, Singleton’s office provided communication from the DEP that said the department sent a letter to Bordentown City on July 1, giving them until August 2020 to complete a “corrosion control study.” The NJDEP further said the study would be “extensive” and include evaluating the effectiveness of corrosion control solutions, monitoring water quality, analyzing the water system’s pipes, and other measures.
Bordentown City was also asked for comment on Singleton’s letter and for more details about the study. A response was not received by a Thursday afternoon deadline.