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Toxic water a worry in New Jersey, scientist says

Glenn Townes | 5/12/2017, 6:16 a.m.
Drinking a glass of tap water can be dangerous, according to a South Jersey based biochemical company.

Drinking a glass of tap water can be dangerous, according to a South Jersey based biochemical company. Due to an on-going crisis in the mostly African American city of Flint, MI., the question of could the contaminated water that has plagued the once thriving Michigan city for nearly two years happen in New Jersey? “The unfortunate reality is that what happened in Flint with dangerous water could easily happen in Camden, Newark, Paterson and Trenton,” said Rafiq Heigler, director of Operations & Development and co-owner at Sure-BioChem Laboratories, a minority and women owned business enterprise (M/WBE) based in Camden, NJ. “Many of the underlying causes that facilitated the crisis in Flint...budget shortfalls, crumbling infrastructure and pack of reliable testing protocols are prevalent in lower income and African American communities.” Among other things, Sure-Bio Chem provides water testing, air quality control measuring and environmental monitoring. With more than two dozen employees, the company is one of only a handful of M/WBE bio-chemical firms in the state.

In various state and federal reports, water treatment and safety tests results show that levels of lead in drinking water frequently rates at dangerously high levels in the cities of Trenton, Newark and Paterson—mostly African American and lower income communities. For example, earlier this year, high levels of lead were discovered in four north Jersey towns, including Paterson. In October, 20 out of 26 public school buildings in Trenton had at least one sink or water fountain with toxic levels of lead. In Newark, public schools have been testing for lead contamination since 2004 after continuous problems with corroded pipes. To that end, a report released in February by the Michigan Civil Rights Commission said the city of Flint experienced a “completely man-made disaster.” The 130 page comprehensive report contained raw and riveting testimony from dozens of Flint residents, plagued with health problems as a result of drinking toxic water for at least 18 months. The report noted that the water crisis could have been averted, at least in part, if scientists and chemical companies reported sloppy and inaccurate testing procedures to the proper state and federal agencies including the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). “With accurate data, city officials can properly design actionable protocols to ensure that the drinking water is safe,” Heigler said. “If a chemical company discovers that shortcuts were done regarding water treatment options that jeopardize the health and welfare of the community the company has a professional duty to report it.” Under EPA guidelines, lead levels must test below 15 parts per billion of lead. According to various reports, a sink at one Trenton high school had more than 100 times that level. Levels at some Newark Public School (NPS) tested at or near similar levels. In one reported case, a public school in the Bronx had 16 times level of lead in its water supply than was recorded in Flint. “Toxic drinking water is often the result of outdated infrastructure {corroded pipes}, though sometimes it can be due to old purification and filtering methods,” Heigler said.

Finally, simply knowing some basic facts about water is the most effective way to ensure that your drinking water is safe. For example, most public water treatment facilities use four key primary treatment components: coagulation, sedimentation, filtration and disinfection. “Some coagulation methods remove only a few specific chemicals from the drinking water, while others remain,” he said. It was this type of selective water processing method that occurred in Flint and resulted in deadly consequences. To find out more about just what's in that glass of tap water, visit the Sure-BioChem Laboratories web site at http://www.surebiochem.com

South Jersey Journal writer Glenn Townes spent 2 days touring the city of Flint, MI and interviewed city leaders and residents under a fellowship program he was awarded by the Institute of Journalism and Natural Resources (www.injr.com)