An overflow crowd that jammed Bloomfield’s Civil Center on Monday looking for answers about the safety of their drinking was offered both a measure of assurance as well as an inconvenient truth.
The township currently buys its water from Newark, where concerns about lead contamination have prompted an order by federal authorities to distribute bottled water. And, unlike the neighboring city, preliminary tap tests here have shown that filters Bloomfield officials issued to residents are working to remove the toxic contaminant. More testing is planned, but there’s no need to distribute water.
But township officials also said they have no say in how their water is treated and very little control over the flow of information from Newark.
“Right now, we don’t have any decision power,” said Mayor Michael Venezia in response to one of the hundred-plus residents attending the forum. “We’re at the mercy of Newark.”
Both residents and officials expressed frustration over the current crisis: The failure of an earlier attempt by Newark to control lead contamination in its Pequannock water system with anti-corrosive chemicals allowed the toxic element to continue to leach from old service lines that run from water mains into thousands of homes in Newark — as well as Bloomfield and three other towns in the system.
Monday night, Bloomfield officials said they had warned the state Department of Environmental Protection and Newark about its corrosion and contaminant problems long before the city finally admitted it last October.
“Our engineer has been very boisterous with the DEP and the EPA for three, four, five years, saying ‘Our numbers are off. It doesn’t seem right. Something coming from Newark, something coming from Newark.’ And we were told, ‘No, no — it’s you guys. Do this, do this. Do this.’”
The township finally installed four devices at interconnections within Bloomfield in 2016 to collect its own data on the anti-contaminant treatment.
“We actually installed sampling taps at those interconnections, because we started to get suspicious of what was going on,” said Township Engineer Paul Lasek. “Then every month I get those results, I’ve been sending them to Newark, saying, ‘Look, you still have a problem. You have to do something about it.’”
“Those sampling taps were actually a great value to us,” he added, “because they gave us info that obviously we wouldn’t have had any other way.”
Neither Newark nor the DEP responded to a request for comment Tuesday.
Bloomfield pays $3.1M annually for Newark water — and residents expressed concern they have no input into how the system’s run, despite that fact.
Bloomfield officials said the new corrosion treatment that Newark started in May seems to be taking effect.
But ultimately, the township will install a new water-pumping station and switch to a different supplier: the Wanaque Reservoir, which is administered by a different agency.
“When we switch to the Wanaque Reservoir with the North Jersey [District] Water Supply [Commission] — they actually have a true board that’s appointed by the governor and people making decisions,” he said. “We’ll have more of a say with North Jersey, than we will with Newark.”
Meanwhile, township officials — like their counterparts in Belleville and Nutley — are testing filtered tap water for the presence of lead. The five tests Bloomfield initially did all came back within limits.
Township officials also said the unfiltered water is okay to bathe in, if residents run the tap for a minute or so.