By JAIMIE JULIA WINTERS
winters@montclairlocal.news

Montclair officials are working to determine how many water service lines may be bringing lead into homes, so the lines can be replaced over the next decade.

In July, Gov. Phil Murphy signed legislation giving towns and their residents 10 years to replace all lead pipes, galvanized pipes and brass water lines. But it’s not yet known who will bear the cost for the replacements for the service lines — the township, or residents — Montclair Communications Director Katya Wowk said.

“The main focus right now is to update [an inventory of service lines] and notify customers,” Wowk said.  

While 99% of Montclair’s main water lines do not contain lead, the water service lines running to homes may, especially in buildings constructed before 1940. Galvanized pipes and brass lines will also need replacing during the same timeframe, because galvanized pipes can attract lead particles and brass lines contain lead, according to Montclair water officials. 

According to data released this week by the Montclair Water Bureau and Sewer Utility, of 10,878 service lines in the township, just 269 are known to have lead. Another 170 are galvanized. The majority — 8,310 lines, or 76% — are copper, and safe. Just one line is registered as plastic, which should also be safe, and 76 are only categorized as “other.”

But there are still 2,052 lines — nearly 19% of those in the township — listed as “unknown.”

The legislation requires towns to submit inventories of lead lines, galvanized lines, brass lines, copper lines and pipes of unknown material to the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection by Sept. 22. 

"In 2019, some 35,000 New Jersey children tested positive for elevated blood lead levels," a press release from Murphy’s administration, touting the new law, cited Sean Jackson, CEO of Isles, Inc., saying. The Trenton-based organization focuses on community development and environmental issues.

Residents can check the status of their service lines on the township website, montclairnjusa.org, by selecting “Government,” from the top menu, then “Departments” and “Water Bureau & Sewer Utility.” The water bureau will continue the process to identify the material of service lines by reaching out to customers in the coming weeks.

“We will work with homeowners by either making appointments, having homeowners submit photos, and/or providing swab kits in the near future to verify the material used for the water service entering the home,” a township press release states.

The township has until July to submit an initial plan for replacing all lead service lines within its service area to the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection. The state suggests that the average annual replacement be at least 10% of all lead service lines. The town will submit updated service line inventories to the department each year.

One of the bills Murphy signed in July 2021 states: “It is in the public interest that each public

water system be obligated to replace lead service lines, including those that exist on private property, and be authorized to recoup the costs of lead service line replacements from all subscribers of the public water system.” Another, signed as part of the same package, removes restrictions on special assessments and bond issuances for replacement of residential lead service lines. 

Last summer, Montclair residents saw the first increase in water rates since 2017, with a new charge increasing water costs by between $25 and $62.25 a quarter for most households.

Homes with service lines that are 5/8 inch x 3/4 inch saw a $25 increase, homes with 3/4 inch lines saw an increase of $37.50 and homes with 1 inch lines saw an increase of $62.25.

The new charges were put in place to address the township’s aging water infrastructure and to continue to maintain water purity standards to be in compliance with New Jersey Water Quality Accountability Act of 2017, but will not cover the service line project, Wowk said. 

At least 20% of lead exposure comes from drinking water, with formula-fed infants possibly receiving 40 to 60% of their lead exposure from the same source, state Sen. Linda Greenstein, one of the sponsors of the bills, said in the Murphy administration press release.

“In recent years, a number of New Jersey water systems, particularly those in urban areas, have reported high lead action levels in their drinking water and we must do what we can to alleviate this issue,” she said. “This legislation will be a huge aid in eliminating the risk of further exposures. No one should have to think twice if it is safe to grab a glass of water and this will bring us a step closer towards mending this problem.

Other legislation signed in the package requires lead paint inspection on some residential rental properties, including upon tenant turnover, and establishes a lead-based paint hazard education program. It appropriates $3.9 million for grants that property owners can use to address lead-based hazards in their homes.