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Lead contamination subject of public meeting in Troy

Troy's city seal
Lucas Willard

Officials in the City of Troy will discuss ways to address lead in homes traced to aging service lines tonight. The issue has gained the attention of environmental activists who say the city has acted too slow.

Earlier this month, concerned Troy residents and local environmental groups attended the city council’s regular meeting to ask officials what they plan to do to address the lead contamination issue.

Liz Moran, policy advocate for Earthjustice, was among those asking why the city hasn’t spent $500,000 in state grant funding to replace aging lead service lines.

“Along with the other residents of the City of Troy and colleague organizations that are also here today, we are calling on the city to develop a plan immediately to remediate this situation and to start using these funds,” said Moran.

Democratic Mayor Patrick Madden told WAMC the city hasn’t spent the money yet because the funding would only be a drop in the bucket to fix the problem.

“We are committed to assisting everyone in getting the lead out of their homes and that will be an enormous investment for the City of Troy. If we were to pay for all of them, for everybody that needs one done, it would be in excess of $22 million,” said Madden.

The city doesn’t have a full picture of which homes are served by lead pipes. The city’s water supply itself is lead-free.

Troy has for years sought input to develop an inventory of such lines, including a recent postcard mailed to residents.

Tonight at 5:30, Madden and city department heads will meet with the city council’s Public Utilities Committee. Madden is in his last year in office due to term limits.

“So, we have to decide this month, and we will talk about it in the meeting, how we’re going to divvy that up. What’s the fairest way when the resources are as infinitesimally scarce as they are and the need is so large,” said Madden.

There are two items on the agenda. Item one, making changes to rules and regulations related to addressing lead lines on private property, and two, using the grant funding to address the lines.

Speaking with WAMC earlier this month, City Council President Carmella Mantello said she was unaware of the grant.

“I guess, to our surprise, I wasn’t aware that we had had that half-a-million dollars since 2018. That’s unacceptable. The money should have went out the door,” said Mantello.

Mantello, a Republican who has since announced a bid for mayor, and declared Democratic mayoral candidate Nina Nichols of the Rensselaer County Legislature, want to establish a grant program to get the money out to homeowners.

“We need to help homeowners. We need to get that grant program and the half-million dollars out ASAP. And then, lastly, the council may have to amend the rules and regs of the code because the city is not allowed, or a private contractor, to go on private property. So, we will have to amend our code to grant easements to folks’ property,” said Mantello.

The city has made information about lead contamination available online and is encouraging residents, particularly those who live in homes built before 1975, to contact the city to schedule a water service inspection if they have not done so before.

Before tonight’s meeting, advocates will gather outside City Hall on River Street to urge officials to take additional action.

They plan to deliver a letter to the mayor and city council detailing a nine-point “Get the Lead Out” platform.

Rob Hayes, Director of Clean Water at Environmental Advocates NY, says the city needs to develop a comprehensive strategy after dragging its feet.

“They should be much more proactive in finding out where these lead pipes are located including going to door-to-door and talking with residents and inspecting pipes. And they should be going after every funding source imaginable to do this work. There are federal dollars available, there are state dollars available, and there’s local dollars that could be made available, like the City of Albany has done. There is no more excuse for delay to address this threat to public health,” said Hayes.

The action plan posted below:

1.Present a plan to swiftly spend current lead pipe replacement grant funding. In line with these Principles of Lead Pipe Replacement, do not place any costs on homeowners or tenants. Prioritize replacements for families with lead-poisoned or young children and in low-income neighborhoods;

2.Establish a local revenue stream for lead pipe replacement, in addition to using American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds, and commit to a timetable for removing all of these dangerous pipes. Use the City of Albany as a model, which intends to replace all lead pipes in 10 years and has set aside money specifically to do so;

3.Provide free water filters to every home with a lead pipe as those residents wait for a replacement, so they are protected from lead exposure when they turn on the tap;

4.Make public all communications about the current lead pipe replacement grant funding between city staff and other city, county, and state officials;

5.Investigate whether Troy is fully complying with actions required by the US EPA following the city’s exceedance of the action level for lead in drinking water;

6.Release a list of state and federal funding that the city intends to apply for or has already applied for to accelerate lead pipe replacement;

7.Pass a resolution urging Governor Hochul and the State Legislature to appropriate and allocate more state funding for lead pipe replacement;

8.Do NOT establish a task force on lead poisoning. Task forces slow progress and sap energy from the real work needed to eliminate this threat to public health. Instead, identify a point-person and team who will work on this issue full-time; and

9.Create and regularly update a website to track progress with handing out filters, replacing lead pipes, applying for new funds, and more. List the full-time point-person and team for residents with questions.

You can view the advocates' entire letter on Scribd:

Troy Get the Lead Out Platform Letter.docx by WAMC News on Scribd

Lucas Willard is a news reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011. He produces and hosts The Best of Our Knowledge and WAMC Listening Party.
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