Trentonian article on Smith bill to remove lead from drinking water'Unsafe Trenton Water Works lead service lines inspire federal ‘Get the Lead Out’ response'
By Sulaiman Abdur-Rahman, Staff Writer
A bipartisan duo is still aiming for Trenton Water Works and similar public water systems across the United States to be lead free in 10 years.
Republican Congressman Chris Smith of Hamilton Township and Democratic U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar of Texas have reintroduced their “Get the Lead Out Act” legislation in the new session of Congress this month.
PHOTO: Trenton Water Works water filtration plant.
The measure, formally known as H.R. 3300, this time calls for $66 billion in appropriations over a 10-year period to help finance water infrastructure projects that either address the most serious risk to human health or are necessary to ensure compliance with the federal Safe Drinking Water Act.
The previous Get the Lead Out Act bill died by inaction in the 116th Congress. It would have increased federal contributions to state revolving loan funds from $1.95 billion in fiscal year 2021 to $6.6 billion and would have authorized another $6.6 billion to be appropriated in fiscal year 2022 — far slimmer than the revamped legislative proposal as introduced by Smith and cosponsored by Cuellar on May 18 in the 117th Congress.
“Replacing the old service lines that deliver drinking water in Trenton and Hamilton in my home state of New Jersey and countless municipalities throughout the country is not just important — it’s critical to good health,” Smith said in a recent press statement. “Congressman Cuellar and I will continue to advance this bipartisan legislation to address the threat of lead in drinking water, which can cause long-term harm in adults and is especially dangerous for children, who are particularly vulnerable to lead.”
(From left) GOP U.S. Rep. Chris Smith of New Jersey and Democratic U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar of Texas. SUBMITTED PHOTOS
Cuellar in a press statement said that “no family should have to worry about whether or not their drinking water is tainted with lead. Unfortunately, many communities face this issue, leading to devastating health and developmental impacts — especially in children.”
The consumption of lead-contaminated drinking water may lead to adverse health effects, including reproductive problems in adults and lower IQ and hyperactivity for children, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Trenton Water Works is notorious for having leaded pipes in its system. TWW serves 225,000 people in the capital city, Ewing Township and parts of Hamilton, Lawrence and Hopewell townships. The utility has a long history of documented shortcomings, including a record 13 violations in 2018.
Trenton is under two administrative consent orders with the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection requiring the city to make necessary improvements to the public water system, including the replacement of so-called LSL or lead service lines.
Trenton Water Works water filtration plant.
DEP sued TWW last year due to the city’s failure to comply with the ACO mandates. A Superior Court judge, however, denied DEP’s request for preliminary injunctive relief that would have required TWW to replace 7% of lead service lines annually with lead-free fixtures.
DEP’s lawsuit against TWW, however, remains active in Mercer County Superior Court’s Chancery Division, with Hamilton, Lawrence and Ewing townships serving as intervenor plaintiffs in the civil-action complaint.
Meanwhile, Jeffrey Wagenbach, an attorney representing TWW, argues the city is “working hard” to improve the water utility’s operations and maintenance.
Lead service lines are water pipes and metal fittings containing a significant amount of lead — a toxic element harmful to the well-being of humans and animals. A lead-free product is one that contains almost no traces of lead, if any at all.
Public water systems like TWW must generally replace their leaded pipes and fixtures within 10 years if Congress passes and President Joe Biden signs the Get the Lead Out Act.
“Congress should pass it swiftly — either on its own or as part of a major infrastructure package this year,” John Rumpler, the senior attorney and clean water program director for the nonprofit advocacy group Environment America Inc., said in a press statement May 20.
The city of Trenton is already slated to receive $73.8 million in direct federal aid under Biden’s American Rescue Plan Act.
ARP funds may only be used for limited purposes, including “to make necessary investments in water, sewer, or broadband infrastructure.”
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Sulaiman Abdur-Rahman previously worked as a staff writer at The Philadelphia Inquirer and has lived in Sydney, Australia, ultimately writing a memoir about that experience. He is a Temple University graduate and award-winning journalist.This article appeared on page 3 of the Sunday, May, 30, 2021 print edition of the Trentonian, and can be found online at: