BLOOMFIELD – Gov. Phil Murphy enacted a package of laws addressing the health hazards of lead exposure Thursday, including one that requires the inventory and replacement of all lead water service lines in the state within 10 years.

Murphy and advocates who have been pushing for action on lead for years called the issue a matter of public health that can save money in the long run by avoiding the health impacts and educational setbacks caused by exposure to lead in drinking water or old paint.

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“Our goal is nothing less than having every single lead water service line across New Jersey – and by the way, there are roughly 300,000 of them – replaced within the next 10 years,” Murphy said. “And under these new laws, that’s not going to just be wishful thinking. It’s going to be an achievable and an affordable reality.”

Murphy said the three new laws enact parts of a statewide plan for addressing lead hazards he had announced in October 2019:

  • S1147/A1372: Requires lead paint inspection on certain residential rental property, including upon tenant turnover; establishes lead-based paint hazard education program; appropriates $3,900,000.
  • A5343/SS3398: Requires public community water systems to inventory and replace lead service lines within 10 years; provides for recoupment of costs by investor-owned public water systems, though increased costs for customers.
  • A5407/S3459: Removes restrictions on special assessments and bond issuances for replacement of residential lead service lines; revises budgetary requirements for operators of certain water systems.

Bloomfield Mayor Michael Venezia said the township so far has replaced more than 200 lead service lines, at no cost to homeowners.

“However, there is still much work that needs to be done. We estimated that we roughly have 1,000 more to do, which we plan on completing within the next three to five years,” Venezia said. “This legislation is extremely important to us as it helps communities like Bloomfield achieve that goal of getting done faster.”

Murphy said the work could get done even quicker if the federal government provides funding though the infrastructure plan being negotiated in Congress.

President Joe Biden is seeking $111 billion toward clean drinking water, including replacement of all lead pipes and service lines, between the current and subsequent jobs proposal. The cost for replacing all the country’s lead service lines is estimated at $45 billion.

The American Water Works Association estimates that around 350,000 homes and businesses in New Jersey are served by lead service lines. Replacing them would cost more than $2 billion. But lead paint in homes built before 1978 poses an even bigger problem, accounting for about 80% of lead poisoning cases, according to Sen. Nilsa Cruz-Perez, D-Camden.

Sean Jackson, the chief executive officer of Isles, a nonprofit community development and environmental organization, said that from 2000 to 2015, more than 225,000 children in New Jersey were identified as having elevated levels of lead in their blood.

“Today, New Jersey says we stop using our kids as lead detectors,” Jackson said. “Today, New Jersey stops using our kids as the canary in the coal mine.”

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