While Placing Public Safety At Risk, Representing A Chasm Of Environmental Injustice
Red Bank, NJ – November 27, 2018
A New Jersey Department of Environmental (NJDEP) protection official says he was presented with “smoking gun” evidence that Red Bank's water system was not being tested for lead contamination in compliance with federal law.
NJDEP Water Enforcement Chief, Raimund Belonzi, was presented with the evidence by Alberto Larotonda, a Red Bank resident and former NJDEP inspector who believes that gross errors in Red Bank's testing methods put town residents at risk of lead poisoning, and overwhelmingly in lower income neighborhoods.
Test results disclosed by the town to the NJDEP and also at a local lead poisoning presentation by Red Bank's environmental commission also mislead the public, according to Larotonda. The evidence included photo documentation, water department service records, and public statements of the Red Bank Water Department, that show the town's methodology is not in compliance with the Federal Safe Drinking Water Act.
The claimed violations include the non-reporting of lead materials existing in water service connections to homes and the misrepresentation of commercial buildings as residential homes, resulting in the collection of less than 40% of the 60 minimum samples required for the borough of over 12,000 residents. Larotonda pointed out that the most recent, and prior years approved water testing plans should be invalidated as a result.
The town's testing method was also found to be overwhelmingly skewed towards more affluent neighborhoods historically known as the town's “east side.” Of 23 samples taken from homes, 21 came from the east side. The remaining two came from the more economically depressed “west side”, representing a clear imbalance of environmental protection and justice.
Alberto Larotonda is the founder of a local residents group, Red Bank POP, or “People Over Politics.” He was accompanied by recent candidates for mayor and council, Pearl Lee and Suzanne Viscomi, who met with NJDEP Director Patricia Gardner and Chief of Water Enforcement, Raimund Belonzi in Trenton. The officials had acknowledged earlier that a current lead testing plan required by Red Bank under Federal Law and submitted to them for approval, was “deficient”.
There was some confusion at the meeting over the purpose of signatures of Red Bank Water Department officials in the town's water test plan, as well. The signatures follow a statement of “I have verified and certify,” in the plan, but a NJDEP official at the meeting claimed the signatures could not be considered certifications until after the NJDEP approved the plan. Larotonda believes the signed statements are of questionable value, and only “pseudo-certifications”.
Larotonda says the violations he has uncovered are the result of negligent, rubber-stamp town bureaucracy. He and others demand complete disclosure to all residents of any violations found by the NJDEP in water quality information prepared for the public, as well as a redesigned water testing plan that gives accurate results and equal health protection regardless of economic status.
Red Bank POP intends to work with the NJDEP and the state entities to ensure that the best interests of residents are catered to... and not local politics.