Spencer Introduces Legislation to Help Fund Improvements to Newark Water System in Light of Lead Detections

Assembly Environment Chair also Urges City to Apply for State Funds for Long-Term Improvements

Assembly Environment Committee Chair L. Grace Spencer has introduced legislation to help address the immediate lead crisis in the Newark water system and also urged the city to apply for funding through the state’s Environmental Infrastructure Trust program to implement long-term improvements to the city’s water system.

Spencer’s bill (A-3583) would appropriate $20 million from the societal benefits charge, commonly referred to as the “Clean Energy Fund,” to the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to provide funding to the City of Newark to make improvements to the water supply infrastructure in order to address elevated levels of lead found in the drinking water.

“This bill would provide critical funding to help solve one of the most important environmental problems facing the state – the decay of critical infrastructure that delivers drinking water to one of our most populous cities,” said Spencer (D-Essex). “There is far too much at stake to simply offer up empty rhetoric. We need to do everything within our power to protect the health and welfare of our residents, especially children, as well as our environment. Aging infrastructure and the physical deterioration of our water supply systems present serious risks to the integrity of our drinking water, which has far-reaching implications.”

Spencer noted that lead in drinking water comes from lead soldering, lead pipes, and leaded brass faucets. Too much lead in the human body can damage the nervous system, brain, and kidneys and young children are at the greatest risk of toxic effects from lead.

News reports earlier this year concerning the health crisis related to lead-contaminated water in Flint, Michigan, and more recently, the Department of Environmental Protection’s directive to the Newark Public Schools system to temporarily utilize alternate water sources in 30 district school buildings after elevated levels of lead were found at various water taps, point to the immediate need to address lead abatement in drinking water in order to protect the public health.

Beyond her legislation, which would help address the immediate crisis, Spencer urged city officials to apply for funding through the New Jersey Environmental Infrastructure Trust program (EITP) to help upgrade the city’s water and sewer system, which dates back to the 1880’s.

“The fact that the presence of lead was detected at several dozen different sources within the school district, points to the need to address the state of our infrastructure,” added Spencer. The EITP was created for just that reason and I hope city officials will look into this option for a long-term solution to the problem.”

The EITP is an independent State Financing Authority responsible for providing and administering low interest rate loans to qualified municipalities, counties, regional authorities, and water purveyors in New Jersey for the purpose of financing water quality infrastructure projects that enhance ground and surface water resources, ensure the safety of drinking water supplies, protect the public health and make possible responsible and sustainable economic development.