The Passaic Valley Water Commission is about to embark on a $45-50 million project to remove thousands of lead water pipes that pose serious health risks.
The commission is concerned that its patrons in Paterson, Passaic and Clifton are ingesting lead-contaminated water leaking from the pipes, officials said. The pipes in question are those that connect the main water pipe to the water pipes inside houses and buildings.
Clifton’s representative on the commission, Joe Kolodziej, recently told the city council that the PVWC has its funding in order.
“We have already aligned funding with NJ Infrastructure Bank,” Kolodziej said. “They promised us $20 million in loan forgiveness.” The I-Bank is a public financing authority that issues bonds for environmental and transportation projects.
The loan forgiveness means the work will be free for residents whose water pipes will be replaced, he said.
Lead poisoning occurs when lead builds up in the body, often for months or years. Even small amounts of lead can cause serious health problems.
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Children 6 and under are especially vulnerable to lead poisoning, which can seriously affect mental and physical development. At very high levels, lead poisoning can be fatal.
The commission has identified approximately 7,000 suspect properties, many of which are residences, that require new water lines connecting the main water line to the home.
In Passaic, it is estimated that 1,200 customers out of 8,523 are affected. The figures are 3,300 out of 22,858 in Paterson and 2,000 out of 22,000 in Clifton, officials said.
Those numbers could change as the PVWC continues to search for lead lines, officials said.
Much of the preliminary work on the massive project has been done. Thousands of test holes have been made, said PVWC Commissioner Ruby Cotton. This involves PVWC workers digging to find which pipes contain lead.
The commission, which is owned by the towns of Clifton, Passaic and Paterson, provides drinking water to more than 800,000 customers in Bergen, Essex, Hudson, Morris and Passaic counties. He asked the governing bodies of the three cities to help him secure access to the affected properties.
On Tuesday, Passaic was the first of three to pass a local ordinance allowing the water commission to access lines on private property. A major concern, Kolodziej said, is absentee landlords.
Cotton said Paterson would change an ordinance used by the city of Newark that allows commission workers to go onto private property to swap water lines with permission from tenants.
“I expect Paterson’s legal department to have something by the end of the month,” Cotton said.
Another concern is that residents might believe the government will take the opportunity to enter the house and carry out inspections.
It’s not, said Passaic Business Administrator Rick Fernandez.
“It’s the service, not the pipes in your house,” Fernandez said.
He added that the commission will return the property to its original condition.
As for the timeline, the city of Newark changed 23,000 lead pipes in 18 months, officials said.
Matt Fagan is a local reporter for NorthJersey.com. For unlimited access to the most important news from your local community, please subscribe or activate your digital account today.
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