Is Your Tap Water Really Safe to Drink? How NJ Utilities Handle Lead Testing
While all New Jersey schools are now required to test for lead in their drinking water supplies, water utilities across the Garden State must also do this same type of testing year round.
Larry Hajna, a spokesman for the state Department of Environmental Protection, said under the federal Environmental Protection Agency lead and copper rule, all water companies must conduct sample testing in their service area and if more than 10 percent of homes and business are found to exceed a lead action level of 15 parts per billion, its customers and the municipalities in that area must be notified by letter and information must also be posted online about the findings.
Hajna points out this doesn’t necessarily mean there is any elevated level of lead in your water coming out of your faucet, just that it’s been discovered in more than 10 percent of the homes in your area that were tested.
Hajna pointed out there are almost 600 large and small public community water systems in New Jersey, and at any one time about of dozen of them may have higher than acceptable lead levels in a part of their service area, which requires heightened testing, public notification and possible system tweaks to stop lead from leeching out of pipes or pipe fixtures.
He said lead discovered in water is almost never coming from the source water, but rather it’s in the solder that connects the pipes in your home, or the service lines leading into your home.
“If it’s a property that’s older than 1986, it probably has lead in the solder and possibly in some of the fixtures,” he said.
So what should you do to make sure you don’t wind up drinking water that may have a trace amount of lead in it?
Officials say you can run your water for about 30 seconds.
Hajna explained when lead is in the solder and the water has been sitting all night, “it gives some of the lead the opportunity to leech out and get into the standing water, so turning the cold water on and letting it run flushes that line out.”
Another option, said Hajna, is to drink bottled water.
He noted in an extreme circumstance “you may want to consider replacing your pipes, but that’s something that can cost thousands of dollars.”
“It’s probably something that most people would not do; they’d prefer to manage their water.”
Hajna explained water system, if it becomes aware of a problem, can take steps to remedy the situation by adding a chemical to the water.
“It actually creates a little bit of a barrier around the inside of your pipe that can hinder the leeching of the lead into the water,” he said.
Hajna stressed even if the number of homes in a community with slightly elevated levels of lead is only a bit higher than 10 percent, everyone is notified, even if the vast majority of samples collected did not show any high levels of lead at all.
“We’re trying to err on the side of caution,” he said.