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Congressman Gottheimer Calls on State, SUEZ to Address Lead in Water

Following Further Reports of Lead in Drinking Water, Gottheimer Calls for Action

 

GLEN ROCK, NJ – Following the tests of elevated lead in the water as reported by NJ.com on Wednesday, January 16, 2019, U.S. Congressman Screen Shot 2018-12-14 at 13.48.27Josh Gottheimer (NJ-5), once again, called for immediate action to address the threat of lead in our drinking water and the serious risks it poses for children and families in the local community.

SUEZ, a major private water utility in the state, said Wednesday they found water samples from multiple customers of its Haworth have shown elevated levels of lead. SUEZ said that 57 municipalities in Bergen and Hudson counties are affected by the tainted water.

 

Gottheimer also spoke with and sent a letter to SUEZ North America CEO Eric Gernath, asking for his commitment to addressing the lead contamination. The text of the letter can be found below. His requests included:

 

  1. Provide “self assessment” information to customers, as many are unaware that they have lead pipes in their home;
  2. Make the action plan required by the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection available to the public;
  3. Review and revise your timetable to fully replace lead pipes.  This should be done as soon as possible;
  4. Send notifications to residents, as well as account holders, so that renters may have immediate access to information.
  5. Ensure that information and test results shared with customers be provided in clear, easy to understand information.

 

SUEZ has made resources available for residents to learn about the incident and to learn if their home uses a lead service line.

 

During his first term, Gottheimer announced the bipartisan Lead-Free Schools Act. The Lead Free Schools Act redirects existing funding and amends the Safe Drinking Water Act to: 1. increase testing for lead and contaminants in water at schools, 2. promote transparency by making the results accessible to families online and 3. provide for a competitive grant program for the replacement of old fountains and infrastructure that may be leaching lead and other contaminants.

 

When children are exposed to lead, their development could be delayed, they face learning disabilities, and appetite and weight loss. In the worst cases, children could develop permanent damage to their kidneys and nervous systems. They could experience seizures, hearing loss, and vomiting. And the greatest risk is to brain development, with subtle and irreversible damage.

 

Gottheimer led parents, educators, and activists last year in calling on Governor Phil Murphy to make sure New Jersey schools are free of lead in our children’s drinking water. He also raised concerns that the state was not dedicating enough resources to schools directly to remove lead from students’ drinking water.

 

“In New Jersey, we are blessed with some of the best communities and schools in the country. Yet, here in the Fifth District, as we have seen in town after town and school after school, we still have water fountains, sinks and pipes that are generations old, and that have lead tainted water running through them. That’s unacceptable. I have personally called SUEZ and been in contact with the towns affected and we will support them in every way possible to remedy this in any way we can,” said Congressman Josh Gottheimer (NJ-5). “I don’t want any parent, here in Bergen County, the Fifth District, our state, or across the country, to have to worry if the water their child drinks contains lead. As parents, we have a right to know what’s in our kids water. We have a right to know that our children and our families will be safe.”

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The text of Gottheimer’s letter to SUEZ North America CEO Eric Gernath:

 

Dear Mr. Gernath:

 

Last week, dangerously high levels of lead were found in 16 out of 108 homes tested across Hudson and Bergen Counties. Disturbingly, all of these homes receive their water from the Haworth Water Treatment Plant in the Fifth District, which, according to the Star-Ledger, serves nearly 800,000 residents — including children and their families — in fifty-seven towns across northern New Jersey. This is an alarming issue for our community and I need your personal commitment to addressing it quickly.

 

Like all Americans, New Jersey families must have access to clean drinking water. I am deeply committed to protecting our communities from lead and other dangerous contaminants, which can be harmful to children seniors especially. Parents are justifiably alarmed at the results of the test which indicated levels of lead reaching 18 parts per billion, well above the federal standard of 15 parts per billion. Knowing of the technology available, there is no reason why North Jersey families should be facing this reality in 2019.

 

I appreciate your time briefing local elected officials and me in the days immediately following the announcement.  The families impacted and their representatives need an open line of communication to ensure there is transparency and access to clean water data.

 

I appreciate you making information available on your website for customers to request free at-home water testing and for your other measures to help address the community’s concerns.

 

As we discussed in our conversation, I am requesting you to:

 

  1. Provide “self assessment” information to customers, as many are unaware that they have lead pipes in their home;
  2. Make the action plan required by the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection available to the public;
  3. Review and revise your timetable to fully replace lead pipes.  This should be done as soon as possible;
  4. Send notifications to residents, as well as account holders, so that renters may have immediate access to information.
  5. Ensure that information and test results shared with customers be provided in clear, easy to understand information.

 

Please provide a written update within five business days of this letter detailing your plans to address these items.

 

I also understand that Suez’s communications with the public on this issue must be approved by the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection.  I will be asking the DEP and the Governor to review these communications within 24-48 hours, particularly if the public’s health is at risk, so that information gets to the public in a timely manner.

 

I will continue fighting to make sure that New Jersey children and families have access to clean and safe drinking water. I look forward to hearing you personally on this important matter as soon as possible. If you have any additional questions, please contact me at (201) 389-1100.

 

Sincerely,

 

Josh Gottheimer

MEMBER OF CONGRESS

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