Lead, Chromium-6, and Arsenic, Oh My!

Many Wyckoff residents question the condition of the water they drink, bathe, and cook with. Ridgewood Water, the public water supply utility which serves Wyckoff, Ridgewood, Glen Rock, and Midland Park, has been under fire for overpriced bills and questionable water contaminants. In July of 2017, frustrated customers won a lawsuit against the corporation which promotes “Excellence in Water Quality And Service for Over 100 Years.” According to NorthJersey.com, a Superior Judge concluded that customer rates were wrongly raised in an attempt to solve the village’s debt problem.

The Ridgewood Blog reported that Bruce Packer, current Mayor of Glen Rock, made a Facebook post which expresses animosity towards the company, “… [Y]our Ridgewood Water rates continue to reflect rate increases that a judge struck down because the Village decided that she was wrong…This outcome is no surprise as they [The Ridgewood Village Council] had a choice between admitting that money was historically misappropriated or not admitting that money was misappropriated.” Wyckoff homeowner, Roger Clark, was willing to disclose his water bills, which fluctuated over a two-year period, with the final bill increasing $140.70 compared to the last. “We received a catch-up bill for more than $2,000,” said Roger. “It was a severe surprise.” According to the EPA, water prices should reflect a company’s water quality and wastewater services. Yet, many customers argue that RW’s bills are at an exorbitant rate, even though the water quality is not up to par. Wyckoff resident, Sarah Derico, stated, “They [Ridgewood Water] overcharged people by a significant amount, so much so that everyone was talking about it in town [and] online… Several years back, maybe 2010 or 2011, we received a huge water bill (compared to previous bills). When we called, the water company said we had been previously undercharged.”

High rates are not the only issue that plagues RW customers; many seem more concerned about possible chemicals contaminating the water. “When they [Ridgewood Water] first sent a report about PFAS contamination it read like the levels were low and the water [was] okay to drink,” Derico said. “I happened to look up PFAS… and most studies I came across stated that no amount of PFAS [are] okay to ingest and causes cancer.” According to NorthJersey.com, Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, are man-made chemicals that can be found in textiles, paper, plastic, and carpet, and can be linked to cancer and developmental issues, simply because the body cannot break them down. PFAS contaminate millions of homeowners’ water, including the water belonging to RW customers. Within the first minute of a public forum held by the Ridgewood Water Utility, bottles to test lead contents in water were offered to RW customers. At the same public forum, Dave Scheibner, former Ridgewood Water business manager, disclosed that trace amounts of Chromium-6 are apparent in the company’s water. According to PBS, contact with Chrom-6, the chemical popularized by the film Erin Brockovich, can cause skin burns, pneumonia, stomach cancer, and reproductive complications. Maryanne Lamorgese, former cancer survivor and Wyckoff resident of 14 years, shared her fear surrounding water contaminants, “It’s very scary…I don’t have a history of breast cancer in my family, but it makes me worry that I did get it maybe from the environment, or maybe [from] drinking water.” On their website, Ridgewood Water posted a list of the chemicals that contaminate their water, from microbial contaminants to radioactive contaminants; these include arsenic, chlorine, radium 226 and radium 228, tetrachloroethylene, and uranium. In that same report, the company disclosed that 90% of customers have lead and copper in their water. In February, Ridgewood Water filed a civil lawsuit against several companies, claiming that they manufactured and sold them products containing PFAS. On their website, the company issued a statement promoting the “safety” of its drinking water: “We have a responsibility to protect our drinking water supply from exposure to and contamination with toxic PFAS… The companies that knowingly sold and promoted these products – despite recognizing that they would impact our drinking water – must be held accountable for the costs we will incur to remove them, and that is what this lawsuit is all about…” Ridgewood Water has requested a trial by jury to make a conclusion on all issues raised in the February 25th complaint.

Featured Photo: A Ridgewood Water bottle is pictured at a water forum (Photo Courtesy of NorthJersey.com)

By: Tara Lamorgese, Staff Writer

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