IRVINGTON, NJ — The Sheridan Street Block Association and the Irvington NAACP have joined forces to host a public meeting about Irvington Township’s water quality Thursday, May 5, from 7 to 9 p.m. at Greater New Point Baptist Church on Paine Avenue.
According to press release from the Sheridan Street Block Association on Wednesday, April 27, “Speakers from the NJ American Water Company and clean water” will be present at the meeting. The email said Irvington NAACP Vice President Kathleen Witcher is hosting the meeting and “All are invited to find out what can be a threat to health and safety for our children and our families.”
“We need to feel that our water is pure and safe to drink,” said Witcher on Tuesday, May 3. “But now that we know soldered lead pipes are the problem, all of our old houses need to be retrofitted with new pipes; the source of lead in our water. I guess nobody wants to pay. Bottled water is treated and does not solve the problem. We may be stuck without solutions for many years.”
The meeting continues a public discussion about clean drinking water that began Thursday, April 7, at the NAACP’s Candidates Night Forum for the candidates running for the four ward seats on the Municipal Council in the May 10 election. At the that meeting, North Ward resident Michael Spruill, a member of the East Ward Joint Block Association and the mayor’s Environmental Committee, asked the candidates: “Are we being poisoned?”
“I’m a resident of the North Ward; ‘clean and safe’ means something totally different to me,” said Spruill on Tuesday, April 7. “I want to know if the stretches of the river running through town behind my house are safe. Newark’s polluted and contaminated water flows through our storm drainage system; whenever it rains, and we have flooding, when I don’t have proper drainage on my property, me and my family are being poisoned.”
“The lead level in Irvington is higher than Flint, Mich.,” alleged Spruill at the forum.
He reiterated this sentiment Saturday, April 9, during a protest rally against sexism and racism by the Irvington Joint Block Association Coalition, National Organization for Women and People’s Organization for Progress outside the Irvington bus terminal.
At the rally, Irvington NAACP President Merrick Harris responded to the Spruill’s concerns, picking up on Witcher’s assertions at the April 7 forum. The difference between Flint and Newark, Witcher had said at the earlier engagement, is that the problems in Michigan were caused by politicians trying to cut costs, whereas the problems in Newark public schools were caused by outdated water pipes that contaminate the otherwise clean drinking water as it flows through the city’s infrastructure.
Witcher said, “If we have the old piping, which we do, then you do have corrosion,” said Witcher on Thursday, April 7. “The National NAACP is very active on this issue. These cities are old and they’ve got old pipes. These operations cost millions of dollars to fix and we don’t have it. This is a serious issue.”
Harris agreed, saying Spruill is right to be concerned about possible contaminants in the Irvington water supply, sewers and drainage system.
“The National NAACP is out to see that towns and cities do whatever they can to put money toward replacing the piping in all the towns,” said Harris on Saturday, April 9. “The NAACP is behind eradicating all the lead out of the water. Environmental issues and concerns are a part of civil rights. The air that you breathe, and even with the food that you eat, that’s all part of your rights as a human being, to make sure that you have the best quality that you can get. So that’s what we’re all out there for.”
Mayor Tony Vauss agreed that residents should have the best quality of water they can get, and denied that there is anything wrong with Irvington’s water supply.
“There was no Environmental Committee before I became mayor and the reason why Michael Spruill is on it is because he had been talking about environmental concerns long before I became mayor, so I thought he would be a great person to have on this commission,” said Vauss on April 7, at the NAACP Candidates Night Forum.
“It’s not true that the lead level in Irvington is higher than it is in Flint, Mich. We actually have the statistics. We talk to people all of the time. I know there was a movement to get Gov. Chris Christie to fund some of the lead-based treatment and he refused to do so.”
Politics aside, Vauss said any questions about high lead levels of Irvington’s water supply are much ado about nothing. He agreed Spruill, Witcher, Harris and anyone legitimately concerned about the issue has the right to speak out about them and hold elected officials accountable for managing the township environment.
“It’s all part of our mission to make Irvington clean and safe; that includes the environment and our water supply,” said Vauss. “There were a bunch of things that were talked about tonight that weren’t actual factual. There was a lot of talk about how we have high levels of lead, but statistics show that, for the last 10 years, it’s been coming down gradually. Lead is found in old homes and, I think, when they say it’s more in Irvington (than) in Flint, that’s apples and oranges.
“In Flint, they have lead in the water. In Irvington, we have a lot of old homes that were built with lead. So, as we go through the process of getting through some of the older homes, we clear up the lead issues in all these homes.”
“There’s a different situation in Newark, where they have their own water,” said Vauss. “Here, it’s New Jersey American Water. So New Jersey American Water is actually responsible for that infrastructure, so they would come in and make those repairs. That’s the difference between a city the size of Newark having to do it themselves and New Jersey American Water, which is responsible for delivering water to us. Therein lies the difference.”