By Qur’an Hansford
Mercer County mayors sat down for a panel discussion about the county’s quality of water on Nov. 13 at an event hosted by the Rebovich Institute for New Jersey Politics.
The panel consisted of Trenton Mayor Reed Gusciora, Lawrence Mayor Christopher Bobbitt, Hopewell Township Mayor Kristin McLaughlin, Ewing Mayor Bert Steinmann and Jeff Martin, the mayor-elect of Hamilton.
The discussion was led by Missy Rebovich, a Rider alumna and director of government affairs for New Jersey Future, a non-profit organization based in Trenton focusing on making New Jersey a “one-of-a-kind state”, where she is an emerging expert on state water issues.
“Right now we have two areas in New Jersey that are getting a lot of attention for having lead in its water, Newark and Trenton [the main issue being lead]. In Flint, Michigan, that was not the case. There was lead, there was iron, there is also something I love to talk about and that is fecal bacteria,” said Rebovich.
There is not a source of water that naturally has lead in it when water runs from the main line to the service line, which connects underground, up the front steps and into the home, according to Rebovich.
If the service line contains lead then there is a possibility of having lead in the water, which is typically seen in homes built prior to 1940, when lead pipes were common, according to Rebovich.
In late September, Rider experienced a water contamination scare when the water disinfection process was disrupted by chlorination levels dropping too low due to an equipment malfunction in the water distribution system. Trenton Water Works advised residents in Trenton, Hamilton Township, Ewing Township, Lawrence Township and Hopewell Township to boil their water before using it to cook, clean or consume.
Gusciora reassured the safety of Mercer’s water and that the problem of lead does not come from the water but from the pipes.
“Let’s start from the source… Trenton is the second oldest water system in the nation and we do have old pipes. We service four communities besides Trenton — Ewing, Hamilton, Lawrence and Hopewell. Hopewell is new enough that they do not have lead line pipes that they have to be concerned about. So, Hopewell is proof that there is no lead in the actually water source,” said Gusciora.
Steinmann stressed the importance of limiting scientific jargon when interacting with their constituents and said that more simple communication would be effective.
“Our entire township is dependent on Trenton Water Works, we have no other sources other than the city of Trenton. What I found out is the warnings go out through the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) use such language that the majority of individuals do not understand what those chemicals are. When we met with the DEP on a number of occasions to try to simplify and use everyday words that everybody can understand. Not everybody is an engineer, not everybody is a chemist,” said Steinmann.
The Mercer County mayors collectively said they plan to provide aid in efforts for safer water.
“We do recognize some residents do not have the money to replace [the service line] and because it is a public health issue we have offered to replace the service line to the curb and the curb to the house. It is estimated between $2,000 to $5,000 to replace those lines. We have bonded money to do that at no greater cost than $1,000 per homeowner,” said Gusciora.
Junior political science major and Rider resident Rhea Fryer was not overly worried about the water advisory press release in September.
“My mind initially went to wondering if there was lead in the water and what actions would be taken, but after reading more about it I was not as alarmed,” said Fryer.
Dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and Lawrence Township resident Kelly Bidle expressed her thoughts about the mayors’ panel and how the water scare affected her.
“I was pleased to see Rider University Communications and RiderAlert messaging throughout the duration of the water issue on campus. This… gave me confidence that the proper officials were working on the issue and keeping our population safe,” said Bidle. “It was another great example of the Rebovich Institute programming — bringing excellent speakers and panelists to campus to discuss relevant issues that affect our community.”