More than 186,000 lead service lines have already been identified in New Jersey, as part of a law enacted in July 2021, and they are "everywhere," according to state officials.

Another 1 million lines contain "unknown materials" that need to be investigated further.

If water systems are following the rules, the 186,830 homes identified as having lead service lines should be notified in the next week, by certified mail.

"They're everywhere. This is not exclusively an urban problem," Shawn LaTourette, commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, told reporters on Thursday.

A map noting the known locations of lead service lines is available at the DEP website, but it is not to scale. The site gives residents the opportunity to see which water system serves their community.

A law signed by Gov. Murphy on July 22 requires public community water systems to inventory and replace lead service lines within 10 years. As part of the law, water systems are supposed to notify residents that are served by a lead service line by no later than Feb. 21, based on their initial inventories.

LaTourette said an initial inventory was required by law in September, but not all water systems responded. An updated inventory was due in January, but not all responded.

"We'll pursue those who have not responded," he said.

LaTourette said DEP plans to make it known which systems haven't kept up with the law's timeline.

This example provided by the DEP shows what type of letter affected residents may receive. The letter notes that lead can cause serious health problems if too much enters one's body through drinking water or other sources.

New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection
New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection
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Letters received by residents won't indicate the level of lead detected, but the DEP hopes the letters don't cause a panic. LaTourette said people shouldn't rush to purchase bottled water upon receiving a notification.

"Lead ... in drinking water is not the greatest lead risk to public health — that risk comes from lead paint. Nonetheless, we have to remove exposure where we find it," LaTourette said,

This round of notifications likely will not be the last, since not all water systems are in compliance. LaTourette noted the law is designed for systems to continue updating their inventories. So far, water systems have recorded 1,084,258 service lines of unknown materials.

"Our hope is to arrive at a consolidated point of information as to the location of all lead service lines in the state, that does not exist today," LaTourette said.

Notifications are being sent by certified mail so they can't be "confused with junk mail," LaTourette said.

Contact reporter Dino Flammia at dino.flammia@townsquaremedia.com.

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