Lead levels in Bordentown City’s water continue to rise as officials attempt to ease residents’ concerns about the safety of the water coming into their homes.
The city has hosted several information sessions, continues to offer free testing for residents and has collected dozens of samples from homes and other local testing points. But, despite the city government’s efforts, questions about water quality still persist.
Bordentown City’s water has exceeded federal since July 2017—four consecutive testing periods. In the first half of 2019, lead levels reached 50 parts per billion, an increase of 78 percent since the second half of 2018. Eight of the 60 homes tested returned results triple the federal limit of 15 ppb.
The state Department of Environmental Protection jumped into action in July, requiring the Bordentown Water Department to conduct a corrosion control study. Corrosion control is important because corrosive water can eat away at materials it comes into contact with, including metals like lead, which then leach into the water system.
Last year, the department added orthophosphates to the water in order to combat corrosivity. The orthophosphates should prevent lead from leaching into the water by coating the pipes it passes through. Orthophosphates cannot undo corrosion that has already occurred, but it can prevent further issues. It, however, is a temporary fix; any problems prevented by orthophosphates would recur if the city stops using them and the root cause is not eliminated.
Despite the state mandate and the introduction of orthophosphates, Bordentown City Commissioner and Director of Water Joe Myers maintains that corrosive water is not the cause of rising lead levels. He cited the results of 10 recent samples that collected from fire hydrants near homes that have tested for lead exceedance. Of those 10 hydrants, Myers said, none tested for an exceedance.
Myers also said water being collected from the source—a groundwater well drilled into an aquifer beneath Crosswicks Creek—has tested “nondetect” for lead. The city took a dozen samples and sent each sample to two separate labs for testing. The results of all samples from both labs, Myers said, were “in strict compliance” with state standards.
“If there was an issue with water in the distribution system, you would certainly say that you’re going to get an exceedance at a fire hydrant or in the distribution system,” he said.
Myers went on to add that water collected at a pipe connection point in Fieldsboro, the southernmost point of receipt from Bordentown’s water plant on Route 206, also did not have a lead exceedance.
“You would argue if there was a corrosivity issue in the water, then you should look at the furthest pipe,” he said. “The testing we’ve done, or the data we’ve collected, has no issue with the connection points in Fieldsboro.”
Fieldsboro, which purchases its water from the Bordentown Water Department, has tested high for lead in each of the last three testing periods, including the first half of 2019, according to the DEP’s Drinking Water Watch records. Early results from second half 2019 testing have shown very high lead levels—one July test came back with a level of 651 ppb, more than 43 times the federal action level.
Despite Fieldsboro’s issues mimicking Bordentown’s, Myers reiterated he is confident the problem is not with Bordentown’s water or its distribution system. Over the last two years, Bordentown City has taken water samples from 560 homes, 290 of which are part of the city’s free sampling program. The city also has dug up in front of 29 homes that previously tested for a lead exceedance. Myers said each time crews did not find lead service lines on city property, meaning lead plumbing, fixtures and solder within individual homes could be to blame for the city’s issues.
All water mains and service lines are city property until they cross the curb. Then, responsibility transfers to the owner of the property connecting to the water system.
The city’s water problems popped up around the same time the DEP changed its testing protocol to a tiered structure. Homes built 1982 and 1988 are considered Tier 1 homes.
“It’s those homes that they prioritize because they now know that the building materials which were approved at the time are a leading and/or significant contributor to lead solder in the interior plumbing of homes,” Myers said.
Since a percentage of those homes are required to be sampled first, Bordentown City is must ensure samples are taken from them before testing others. Despite this, though, some high testing results have been found in the city, too.
“There certainly was a change in the sampling in the overall plan at the state level, and my assumption is that the intent of that was to kind of ensure that the water departments and/or operators throughout the state were focusing on homes that were vulnerable or homes that were using material that could be contributing to lead solder,” Myers said.
Myers said that he feels the city government has “done a lot of work,” but he acknowledged that there is more to be done.
“I am personally committed to being extremely transparent and open in terms of all of the information we have,” he said. “I think it’s incumbent on government to always look to improve. I think we are always looking to see what we can do better, whether it’s implementing additional components of our asset management plan, or other innovative ways that we can improve the delivery of our water service.”