RELEASE: Gottheimer Visits Water Treatment Facility to Highlight Clean Water Resources in Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill Gottheimer Sends Letter to Governor Murphy on Infrastructure Investment Priorities

Nov 30, 2021
Press

Gottheimer Led Passage of Infrastructure Bill to Help Remove Lead, Forever Chemicals from Drinking Water

Above: Gottheimer with SUEZ Workers in Haworth Control Room

HAWORTH, NJ — Today, Tuesday, November 30, 2021, U.S. Congressman Josh Gottheimer (NJ-5) stopped by the SUEZ Haworth Water Treatment Plant to highlight how the clean water provisions in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill will help get lead and forever chemicals like PFAS out of our drinking water — protecting North Jersey children and families.

Gottheimer also wrote today to New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy outlining requests to help ensure key water infrastructure projects are fully funded, noting how he plans to fight for every nickel possible to replace lead pipes in our communities and to invest in our water treatment facilities across the Fifth District.

And it’s not only water infrastructure— Gottheimer also asked the Governor to direct resources here to the Fifth District for other critical infrastructure projects identified by our state and local officials, from roads and rails, including New Jersey Transit, to bridges and broadband, and storm resiliency – and, of course, the Gateway Tunnel.

By investing more than $1 billion right here in New Jersey to address critical water infrastructure needs, not only will the Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill help replace lead service lines, but it will also help improve water systems and get forever chemicals like PFAS out of our water. In New Jersey alone, there are 350,000 lead service lines, according to the American Water Works Association, and towns across the state are dealing with high PFAS levels.

“I believe that every child — every family — deserves to drink water that’s free of lead and dangerous chemicals, and every parent deserves to know that their school and town’s drinking water is safe to drink. This is a fight to protect our children and our families and we must keep swinging hard against lead and forever chemicals until we win” said Congressman Josh Gottheimer. “And now, thanks to the recently-enacted Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill, we will finally have the resources to make the critical investments we need to help protect our children’s drinking water from lead and other dangerous, forever chemicals both here in New Jersey and around the country. As Co-Chair of the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus, I was very proud to have worked with my Democratic and Republican colleagues in the House and Senate to draft and fight to pass this once-in-a-century legislation. There is nothing partisan about clean drinking water for our kids and families.”

“Investing in infrastructure is essential to the health of communities. That’s why SUEZ invests heavily in New Jersey, with $810 million in projects slated over the next five years,” said Alan Weland, Vice President and General Manager of SUEZ Utility Operations in New Jersey. “These investments, from replacing water mains and removing lead service lines to improving treatment systems and ensuring dam safety, will ensure residents and businesses have clean water and reliable service for generations to come. We thank Congressman Gottheimer for efforts on the Infrastructure and Jobs Act, which will bring $1 billion in infrastructure support to New Jersey. This will have a significant impact on communities across the state and help communities improve water and wastewater systems.”

The Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill builds on the work Gottheimer has been leading for years and the progress already made in New Jersey for clean drinking water:

  • In 2018 and 2019, Gottheimer worked with parents, local officials, elected officials and groups like the League of Conservation Voters, Clean Water Action, and the Sierra Club, for greater transparency into lead water levels in our schools. The state launched an easy-to-access, centralized database of lead testing results in every school, and they increased required school lead testing from every six to every three years.
  • The Lead-Free Schools Act, which Gottheimer introduced in 2017 was enacted into law as part of the America’s Water Infrastructure Act of 2018, creating a targeted pilot program to help get lead out of drinking water in schools across the country.
  • Gottheimer also addressed the need for clean water in our communities in his Five Point Green Action Plan — the very first point was making sure we protect clean water in our fight against climate change, to update our service lines and pipes to get lead out of our water systems, and ensure that our water infrastructure is sustainable and resilient.

Watch the press conference here.

Find Gottheimer’s letter to Governor Murphy here

Above: Gottheimer with VP and General Manager, Alan Weland, and Senior Vice President, Rich Hennings


Below: Gottheimer with Kevin O’Connor, Director of External Affairs, looking into filtration pond rooms

Gottheimer’s remarks as prepared for delivery 

I’m here today to talk about how, thanks to the recently-enacted Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill, we will finally have the resources to help make the critical investments we need to protect our children’s drinking water from lead and other dangerous, forever chemicals both here in New Jersey and around the country.  The Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill will invest more than $1 billion right here in New Jersey to address critical water infrastructure needs. This is a huge win for New Jersey children and families.

As I wrote in a letter to Governor Murphy today, I plan to fight for every nickel possible to replace lead pipes in our communities and to invest in our water treatment facilities across my district, starting right here at this one.

This is a fight to protect our children and our families and we must keep swinging hard against lead and forever chemicals until we win.

And it’s not just water infrastructure— I’ve also asked the governor in a letter I wrote to him today to direct resources here to the Fifth District for other critical infrastructure projects identified by our state and local officials, from roads and rails, including New Jersey Transit, to bridges and broadband, and storm resiliency – and, of course, the Gateway Tunnel. To help us compete and improve our commute times, so that our parents can get to work in the morning and see their kids at night.

Earlier this year, we identified a list of local projects, ranging from a culvert replacement for the Lackawanna Cut-off in Andover Township to a bicycle and pedestrian bridge in Ringwood — plus bigger projects, like wiring broadband up in Sussex and Warren County, major road repairs and fixing the Route 4 Hackensack River Bridge, and, of course, while we are here today,  ensuring our children’s drinking water is clean.

For years now, even before I was even in Congress, I’ve been sounding the alarm on the threat to the health and safety of our families and children: contaminated drinking water — whether it be dangerously elevated lead levels or forever chemicals known as PFAS.

I believe that every child — every family — deserves to drink water that’s free of lead and dangerous chemicals, and every parent deserves to know that their school and town’s drinking water is safe to drink.

By working with our local water treatment facilities, this bill will allow communities to fully modernize their water systems. Not only will the legislation help replace lead service lines, it will help improve water systems and get forever chemicals like PFAS out of our water. As Co-Chair of the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus, I was very proud to have worked with my Democratic and Republican colleagues in the House and Senate to draft and fight to pass this once-in-a-century legislation. There is nothing partisan about clean drinking water for our kids and families.

It wasn’t easy to get across the finish line, we had to battle some naysayers, but let me tell you why it was critically important.

The science is clear and incredibly concerning: lead exposure can stunt a child’s development, cause learning disabilities and appetite loss, and can even lead to permanent damage to their vital organs and nervous systems. Children who are exposed to lead water often experience hearing loss, seizures, and irreversible harm to brain development.

And PFAS are forever chemicals from things like Teflon, food packaging, and stain repellents, that have been linked to numerous adverse health effects, including cancers and impaired child development.

Currently, up to 10 million American households and 400,000 schools and child care centers lack safe drinking water. The EPA estimates that at least 20 percent of human lead exposure is from drinking water.

Like most parents, back in 2014 when I first read the news out of Flint, Michigan about lead in the drinking water, I was heartbroken. Images of brown water pouring out of faucets with public officials turning a blind eye. I was not only devastated by the impact that the lead found in Flint’s water would have on countless children – from stunted intellectual growth and seizures to the potential development of cancer – but I simply couldn’t understand how this could happen in our country.

Now, fortunately, the water challenges facing us here in New Jersey are not nearly as dire as those in the Flint crisis. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t real problems we have to face and deal with – and address without delay. We have plenty of schools and homes and facilities in our great state, and here in my District, whose water fountains, sinks and pipes are generations old, and were made with lead.

Ridgewood High School, founded in 1892, opened the main building it uses today in 1919, nearly a hundred years ago. Ridgewood took solid, concrete steps to address their issues with all their pipes, but it raises a broader issue. When you have infrastructure that predates the phase out of lead pipes in the 1920s or lead solder in the 1980s, there could be lead in the drinking water, whether that’s in our sinks at home, or the sinks or water fountains in the lunch rooms.

Right here in New Jersey, we have 350,000 lead service lines, according to the American Water Works Association. That’s a lead pipe that connects a water main to premises like a home or school — from the curb to the home. Any pipe leading to a home or school built before 1988 could have lead pipes. Indeed, according to 2019 research, approximately 480 school buildings across a third of our state’s school districts recorded lead levels that exceeded 15 parts per billion. These results are simply unacceptable. The stakes are obviously high, and now, thanks to the Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill , we can finally start to fix it by making investments to replace lead service lines and to help states and water utilities to treat pollutants such as PFAS substances.

For instance, Ridgewood Water, which serves the towns of Ridgewood, Glen Rock, Midland Park, and Wyckoff, has been fighting back against polluters whose actions have contaminated our surface and groundwater with forever chemicals. In previous years, they found evidence of these forever chemicals in most of their 52 wells — at levels that would exceed certain standards. They’ve already installed treatment technologies and they’ve spent several million dollars to help keep our residents safe. But, it’s very expensive — and they can’t just dump the cost on our families. It would be hundreds of dollars a year for every household. So, as a publicly owned system, they need more help. In fact, one of the key projects we are fighting for through this bill is to get direct federal investment for Ridgewood Water.

Other communities have requested and could use additional resources as well, including in Paramus, Fairlawn, Saddle River, and in Sussex Borough, where their 100-year-old water utility system routinely suffers leaks. Recently, there have also been reports of traces of PFAS in the water in West Milford, Fair Lawn, Ridgewood, and Washington Township in Warren County. Since we know just how bad these chemicals can be for our health, it’s essential that these communities have the resources they need to improve their filtration system.

We also need to upgrade and modernize our drinking water, wastewater, and stormwater systems, tackle these contaminants, and support clean water infrastructure in our rural communities.

These are the types of investments that will allow us to tackle contaminants head on, right now, not just one day down the road. And that’s great for Jersey.

I would also like to thank SUEZ for their recent work to replace lead service lines. They’ve removed 7800 lead lines, and lead levels across the system are at historic lows. They have 25 crews in the field at all times replacing lines, and have committed to having no lead in their system in 10 years. I applaud SUEZ for surpassing state and federal guidelines l today. But we all know that there is more work to be done to prepare for the future. This is important work for our families, and to keep it going we need to invest in projects like these through the funds available from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill.

As I mentioned earlier, the Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill builds on the work I’ve been doing for years and the progress we’ve already made in New Jersey to keep folks safe. In 2018 and 2019, I worked with parents, local officials, elected officials and groups like the League of Conservation Voters, Clean Water Action, and the Sierra Club, for greater transparency into lead water levels in our schools. The state launched an easy-to-access, centralized database of lead testing results in every school so parents could have information at their fingertips, and they increased required school lead testing from every six to every three years. Just this week, I was pleased to see that a proposed bill before the New Jersey legislature would build upon this work by giving parents access to lead testing results at child care centers.

Also, a key piece of bipartisan legislation I introduced in 2017, the Lead-Free Schools Act, was enacted into law as part of the America’s Water Infrastructure Act of 2018, creating a targeted pilot program to help get lead out of drinking water in schools across the country. I also addressed the need for clean water in our communities in my Five Point Green Action Plan — the very first point was making sure we protect clean water in our fight against climate change, to update our service lines and pipes to get lead out of our water systems, and ensure that our water infrastructure is sustainable and resilient.

The Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill builds on this work and is a major bipartisan win for our country and for hardworking New Jersey families — a victory for pragmatic problem solving, for common sense, for helping our hard-working moms and dads, and for the safety of our children and families for generations to come.

It’s clear, this bill is a game changer for North Jersey on so many levels — it is a historic, once-in-a-century investment in repairing and improving our infrastructure: our roads, bridges, rails, NJ Transit, storm resilience, broadband connectivity, and electric vehicle chargers. But it also is revolutionary for our water systems and clean water across North Jersey and the whole country — and I’m here to make sure folks know just how important these pieces of the bill are for our families.

By working together — just like we did to get this bill across the finish line — I know here, in the greatest country in the world, our children can always have clean water to drink and that our best days, for New Jersey and for our nation, will always be ahead of us.

Thank you and God bless.

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