Fact Check: Verona’s Water Quality

By on April 27, 2019

On April 1, Christine McGrath, who is running for Town Council, posted remarks to her campaign’s Facebook page that implied that Verona’s water quality is not what it should be. On April 8, she raised a question about the safety of Verona’s water at the Town Council meeting. But is Verona’s water really a problem?

The statements: “Contaminants in our drinking water are a top concern for many residents,” McGrath posted to Facebook on April 1. “This recent article made the rounds on Facebook last week. While mostly about how large chemical companies are being held accountable for contaminating NJ’s water supply, it contained a list of towns that had the most water quality violation points, and Verona was on the list.”

The article that McGrath referred to was a Patch Point Pleasant story that was a mash-up of a March 25 press release from the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection on water pollution caused by five large corporations elsewhere in New Jersey and a list of towns with water quality violations compiled by the Environmental Working Group (EWG), a Washington, D.C.-based activist group.

McGrath said in the Facebook post that she did some digging to find out why Verona was on the EWG list. “Verona’s lack of compliance and safety of it’s [sic] water supply may have been addressed by the township manager and town council at a past meeting,” she adds, “but I could not find any sort of summary statement or explanation on the town website.”

In her question to the Town Council on April 8, McGrath asked for a Council reaction to the EWG findings, which are based on data from 2014 and 2015. Township Manager Matthew Cavallo responded that Verona is in compliance with state and federal regulations, and said that EWG uses California standards, which exceed the standards set in all 49 other states in most cases. McGrath did note this in her Facebook post on the Town Council meeting, but did not append the information as a comment to her April 1 post.

The fact check: Verona generates its drinking water from two wells in town and water from the Passaic Valley Water Commission’s Wanaque Reservoir. The waters are blended and held in the town’s water tanks before distribution to our homes. Verona tests its water daily at multiple locations around town and mails an annual water quality report to residents. The reports from 2009 to 2018 are posted on the town website. They are dense to read, but indicate that Verona’s water is safe.

The NJ DEP’s Data Miner database does contain reports of violations at site 13029, which is the identifying number for Verona’s water department. (You can view the reports from January 1, 2016 to April 27, 2019 here.) Most, says Jessica Pearson, the chair of the Verona Environmental Commission, are for reporting violations, not water quality problems. “The only issues that we’ve had in the past few years,” she says, “were related to reporting issues to the DEP as well as a spike in January 2015 of naturally occurring arsenic which was mitigated upon discovery.” The well that had the higher level of arsenic was taken out of service and tested, and the arsenic spike was also promptly communicated to town residents, as MyVeronaNJ.com reported in May 2015.

In an interview last week, Cavallo acknowledged that Verona has had problems with late reporting to the DEP, which has resulted in violations. To correct that, the township hired a new water operator, Lyons Environmental. Cavallo noted at the April 8 Town Council meeting that Verona will need to make some upgrades to its water plant to comply with new state regulations on Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), both man-made chemicals that were the subject of the state DEP’s press release. None of the companies cited in that release had factories in Verona.

In April 2016, Verona tested all school water fountains and kitchen faucets for lead. The kitchen faucets were all found to be safe but several water fountains had to be replaced or remediated. The issue here was the fountain equipment, not the water coming into them.

Pearson also cautioned residents to get their information on Verona’s water quality from the right source. “If you want to research our water, you must research it by going to the authority that regulates all municipalities’ drinking water in the state, according to New Jersey state standards, set forth by NJAC 7:10. EWG is not the authority on New Jersey’s water quality standards or reports. NJDEP is.” EWG does note on its website that, “For the latest quarter assessed by the EPA (July 2018 – September 2018), tap water provided by this water utility was in compliance with federal health-based drinking water standards.”

McGrath’s response: In an email to MyVeronaNJ, McGrath said she had been approached by residents who were concerned after reading the Patch article. “If you want to fact check assertions that were made on Verona’s water quality, I would reach out to the Patch on their article.”

“Thanks for looking into the issue of water quality,” she added. “This is a very important issue to many residents.”

Bottom line: “Verona’s water is safe to drink,” Cavallo says. “Yes, we have hard water, but that does not mean bad water. It does not pose a health risk but it is a nuisance to plumbing fixtures.”

Residents can take steps to keep Verona’s water safe to drink. The Verona Environmental Commission suggests that we buy only nonhazardous, biodegradable and phosphorous-free household cleaning products and use integrated pest management in our gardens rather than chemical fertilizers, which can lead to nitrate or phosphorus contamination of our water resources. Wash your car in a car wash rather than in your own driveway and never discard oil, gas, antifreeze or other unwanted chemicals into the street, sewer or the storm drain. Instead, bring them to one of Essex County’s household hazardous waste days instead. The next one is Saturday, May 4.

For more water questions, residents can contact Cavallo at Town Hall, (973) 239-3220. The VEC can be reached at [email protected]

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2 Comments

  1. Kevin J Ryan

    April 28, 2019 at 12:55 pm

    Thanks to my verona for a very detailed account regarding the extent the municipal government goes to ensure that the water quality is very safe. As the current mayor and a member of the council and liaison to the environmental commission since 2011 I can assure residents we pay close attention to both our water supply and waste water treatment issues. Any time our professionals have identified problems or issues related to our treatment facilities we have acted quickly to deal with them. We haven’t needed to be in an election cycle to address legitimate issues or concerns.

  2. Brendan Walsh

    April 30, 2019 at 3:21 pm

    I completely disagree with the premise of this article that Christine McGrath is somehow responsible for the community’s concerns about this issue. Please read my entire letter to the editor dated April 30, 2019 for a more complete description of how this issue gained traction.
    https://www.myveronanj.com/2019/04/30/letter-drinking-water-safety/

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