The FRESH Report November 2019
BERGEN COUNTY Dangerously High Lead levels in Your Water!!
SUEZ in Breach of Its Obligations to Bergen Residents
This is our first issue of The FRESH Report, and we would have loved to begin with glad tidings of great joy. Unfortunately, we do not have good news; not about your drinking water!
By now, most of you know about the lead contamination problem in Flint, Michigan and in Newark, New Jersey. What most of you may not know, is that there is also a lead problem in Bergen County, New Jersey. Yes! Right where you live: Hackensack; Teaneck; Lodi; Palisades Park; Westwood; Leonia, and countless others.
Your local authorities know this. Or they should. Water is supplied to Bergen County residents by SUEZ, a subsidiary of a French company of some vintage. Ever heard of the Suez Canal? Surprise!!
Read about the history of Suez and its parent companies, as told by Suez itself on its website, here:
The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) has cited Suez for breach of regulatory obligations under the New Jersey Safe Drinking Water Act.
Testing for lead conducted in the second half of 2018 in various Bergen County communities revealed extremely high levels of lead contamination in tap water – in some cases, way above levels deemed actionable by the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Suez knew this but failed to take appropriate corrective action in 2018. They also failed to inform you of the risk to your health. How long has this breach of duty been going on? We do not know, but we intend to find out and let you know.
There is now a flurry of activity by Suez to attempt to put themselves in compliance with regulatory requirements and NJDEP requisitions. By law, Suez is required to take the following steps:
1. Monitor and report on lead and copper in drinking water;
2. Increase the use of orthophosphate corrosion inhibitor, a chemical put in water to seal pipes and prevent corrosion and lead seepage;
3. Conduct a public education campaign with materials approved by the Bureau of Safe Drinking Water. Key targets of this campaign should be: all bill paying customers; local public health agencies; public and private school boards; groups involving women, infants and children; Head Start Programs; public and private hospitals and medical clinics; pediatricians; family planning clinics; and licensed childcare centers.
Questions you should ask yourself: Is the NJDEP able to properly monitor Suez in performing these obligations? See page 4 for our thoughts.
Is a public education campaign the correct answer to the problem? See page 4 for our thoughts.
Access to the Public Information is a right. FRESH Justice is dedicated to providing the facts.
A FRESH Justice gem: “Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you”
Collecting Water Sample in Hackensack
Tap and Bottled Water Samples
Lead Testing Results in Hackensack and surrounding Communities: Are You the Next Newark?
FRESH Justice recently obtained 2019 lead test results done by Suez for the locations in the table below and on page 4. Unfortunately only street addresses are provided without identifying the towns that are affected.
These results show varying degrees of lead contamination. The most critical is that of Cedar Lane in Teaneck, where the elevated lead level is almost 20 times the EPA safe level.
After being cited for non-compliance by the NJDEP, Suez appears to have taken measures to remediate the elevated levels of lead in various communities.
However, Suez’s remediation measures may be temporary and may not address lead pipes inside homes and condos, which are the owner’s responsibility because they are not Suez service lines.
FRESH Justice has been conducting random sampling and testing of various locations in Hackensack to verify test results and lead levels for itself. Samples were tested at Alpha Analytical Labs in Mahwah, NJ as well as Eurofins Laboratories.
So far our most interesting findings are as follows:
1. FRESH Justice took a sample from Hackensack Middle School and found elevated levels of lead – 53.1 parts per billion (ppb). Did Suez test this site? Because they did not provide those results. Further control testing may be needed to verify results from another location within the facility.
2. We tested an apartment on Polifly road and found elevated levels of lead – 152ppb. Suez has indicated that there are no lead service lines leading to the Polifly road condo. The inference from this is that the lead pipes are internal, and the responsibility of the owner.
Both results above exceed EPA safe levels of lead in drinking water which is currently 15ppb. Our independent testing results …..Even if your area does not appear in Suez’ results, there is still a need for you to verify that there are no internal lead lines in your homes. You can do your own sampling and testing. If you are interested, you can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
The water sampling results also identify the need for closer monitoring of lead levels from year to year. This is especially critical when temporary measures are being used to control lead elevation levels in tap water.
If you live in the vicinity of areas showing elevated levels of lead, you should be concerned.
SUEZ is reportedly mapping out a $15 million project to replace 25 percent of the lead in the system in Bergen County. The project is slated to begin in the various communities, and work appears to have begun in some areas. You may visit our Facebook or twitter page for more information. However, the NJDEP indicates that, as of August of this year, it had not yet approved any lead replacement plan by Suez.
FRESH Justice will continue to monitor remediation efforts. The most vulnerable and least privileged communities and populations MUST NOT left out or left for last. Everyone MUST BE kept fully informed.
Have you been notified by Suez of potential contamination in your drinking water? Please let us know. This information helps FRESH Justice to monitor Suez and its remediation attempts.
What is Lead Doing to You and Your Family?
The effects of lead in the body are permanent. Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, famed pediatrician and Michigan State University professor, who blew the whistle on the large-scale lead poisoning of residents in Flint, Michigan, tells us that no level of lead in the body is safe.
The EPA action level for lead remediation in tap water is 15 micrograms per deciliter, otherwise written as 15ppb. However, experts state that even 10ppb is considered to be too high. Research suggests that it takes way less lead build-up in the body to produce harmful results. So why is the EPA playing ‘Russian Roulette’ with our health and the health of our loved ones?
Experts report that lead is harmful to every organ in the body. It can retard growth and development of faculties in children, it is reported to also cause hearing loss, headaches weakness, muscular problems memory loss, and trouble learning. Chronic angry or persistent hyperactivity and moodiness have also been linked to lead poisoning.
While more focus has been placed on the harmful effects of lead on children, research is clear that lead poisoning is harmful to adults as well. Drinking water contaminated with lead can cause stomach, kidney, brain, and nervous system injury as well as high blood pressure and behavioral problems. Yes, behavioral problems in adults too!
Many parents have struggled with their children’s chronic behavioral problems and social maladjustment, and wondered “What did I do wrong?” Poor and unprivileged families, in particular, were made to feel like meagre resources and bad parenting were the culprits. Did you ever think that the culprit might be lead in your drinking or cooking water, built up in your children’s body over years?
You may have worked hard and set good examples for your children. Did you ever wonder why your children had learning disabilities, and why it seemed impossible to correct them and set them on the right path?
The gross mishandling of the lead crisis over the years has left many mothers and fathers in the lurch wondering how to help their children, and finding no answer in sight. Those same mothers and fathers may also have been casualties of lead poisoning.
In our next issue, we will further explore the history of this mishandling of lead in the United States and the role of lobbyists and corporate dollars.
Community Member in Quest for Justice
In 2017, FRESH Justice founder Jermaine Spence had a chance encounter with Carol Bratman, a Teaneck resident, and gave her information about possible toxins in the Teaneck tap water supplied to her community by Suez.
A light went on for Carol. She had been noticing a curiously high rate of cancer in her community over two decades, and in recent years, two members of her own household had been diagnosed with cancer within weeks of each other.
Now Carol is intent on getting answers and holding authorities accountable. The most disturbing part of Carol’s story is not only that she had to deal with these potentially financially and emotionally debilitating instances of cancer in her own house, but also, it was the frustration caused by the fact that she did not have all the information. Why hasn’t Suez, nor any local authority, seen fit to inform its customers sooner about lead service lines and internal lead pipes. And, why did Suez say nothing about the seriously harmful effects of lead and other toxins on the body?
So Carol started her own information-gathering research in her community and started her own campaign for accountability. This included getting her own water tested independently of Suez. We last heard Carol speak bravely about lead issues to a hostile crowd at a Hackensack Freeholders meeting.
Carol is energized for the fight and will not back down. But, her case is not unique. Lead poisoning has been mishandled over the years and continues to this day. While Carol has not yet completed her investigation to determine if lead or other toxins are the sole or main, or simply contributory, causes of the afflictions in her community, she knows for sure that the elevated levels of lead in her water have caused her family great harm. She has seen the serious health effects in Flint, Michigan, and closer to home, Newark, New Jersey.
Look out for our next issue, when we will sit down with carol to discuss her fight for accountability and her exploration of the possibility of a class action lawsuit.
Concerned? You may reach out to Carol at email@example.com
The Case For Accountability – A Tax-payer’s rant
Demand answers for your tax dollars
DID YOU KNOW that New Jersey has one of the highest property tax rate in the United States? And also has one of the highest sales and income tax
rates in the United States as well? What exactly are you paying taxes for? Shouldn’t our tax dollars guarantee us clean drinking water?
There are certain basic amenities that taxpayers in any society would expect their governments to provide in return for the taxes that they collect. Among the expected amenities, public utilities are a no-brainer, and clean water is at the top of that list.
Yet, for all the taxes we pay in New Jersey, clean tap water is not a guarantee.
Firstly, state government has generally washed its hands of the responsibility of providing clean water directly, at least in areas like Bergen County where the responsibility has been privatized, sold to a foreign company, whose actions are not monitored effectively.
Secondly, governments have created their own crisis over decades by kowtowing to lobbyists, in this case the Lead Industries Association, and ignoring clear warnings about the risks of lead poisoning. As a result, most communities have lead service lines somewhere, and most dwelling places built before the 1990s have internal lead pipes.
Thirdly, now that there is a lead crisis on our hands, the Lead Industries Association and the governments that kowtowed to it have turned a blind eye to the looming disaster or proclaimed it too expensive to fix with any proper lasting solution.
Fourthly, monitoring of drinking water has essentially been left to a politicized agency, the NJDEP, which either lacks the capacity, the will, the skill, or the resources to properly monitor a third party foreign-owned company that calls the shots. And what role does the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities (NJBPU) play in the actual regulation of such a third party foreign-owned company in respect of its obligation to supply us with safe drinking water? Sadly, the answer is not clear.
Fifthly, for all the taxes you pay, instead of being able to rely on tap water for our nutrition needs, collectively we spend thousands of dollars buying bottled water, usually sold in plastic bottles which have an additional unliquidated cost on our environment and health, and making companies, many of which are foreign, rich from merely collecting free water at natural sources and selling it back to us.
Sounds like we have been sold a bill of goods, or maybe a bridge, right?
Consider that we are spending thousands of dollars buying bottled water in an industry which is basically unregulated, while we are unable to rely on the water provided by the regulated provider. AND we continue to pay some of the highest tax rates. One might consider the cost of bottled water, more costly than gasoline, to be a tax in itself.
Our tax dollars support the NJDEP, yet they have proven to be ineffective in monitoring regulatory compliance in respect of the provision of clean water for New Jersey residents.
FRESH Justice has learned that subsequent to lead-testing in 2018, Suez was found to be in breach of its regulatory obligations. Lead testing is not conducted by the NJDEP. Rather the test results are provided Suez itself. Does that sound to you like the fox is guarding the hen-house? State and local authorities seem to expect Suez to self-regulate to self-regulate by doing its own testing, identifying elevated levels of lead above EPA action levels, voluntarily taking remedial action by treating water with anti-corrosion agents and by conducting its own public education campaign. Will NJDEP properly monitor Suez throughout this process? Take the case of the public education campaign? How will it know whether Suez has in fact done a mass mailing or not? And that residents have received the correct and complete information?
A public education campaign, while it is essential, is a woefully comical placebo for a serious problem. Merely relying on the dissemination of information to the poor and vulnerable will not help them solve an existing crisis. It puts the onus on residents to solve the problem themselves – which they cannot do.