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Wednesday, June 19, 2024

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Drinking Water’s Safety Never in Doubt, Says City

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By Vince Conti

CAPE MAY – Over a year later, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) still required public notice of what Cape May says was a minor technical violation of “treatment technique” with regard to its drinking water distribution in the opening months of 2021. 
The nature of the violation the DEP is resurfacing from 2021 had to do with pH levels in the water supply as it enters the distribution system. The pH level of water shows how acidic or alkaline the water is. The pH scale goes from zero to 14 with 7 being neutral. 
By maintaining the proper pH level in the water distribution system, the city’s water department is reducing the likelihood of lead or copper leaching into the water supply from pipes and service lines before it comes out of the tap. The state sets the allowable pH range. 
According to the U. S. Geological Survey, too high a pH level in the water can produce a bitter taste, lead to water-using appliances building up deposits and depress the effectiveness of chlorine. Too low a pH level can facilitate the leaching of metals into the water. The state adopts its pH requirement from the federal government and incorporates it into state regulations.
What happened in Cape May was a change to the allowable pH range by the DEP. During the six months from Jan. 1 to June 30 of 2021, the City of Cape May had a higher pH level water supply entering the distribution system. Where the new range was between pH 7 and 8, the city had water at pH 8.5. That slightly higher number was within the parameters of the previous DEP standard. 
According to water department director Robert Cummiskey, at the time of the 2021 violation, the water department was unaware of the change because the DEP sent the notice of the change to the previous Superintendent and the previous City Manager. The problem was immediately corrected and since then water has been distributed in accordance with the state’s current pH range.
Why the DEP decided that the Oct. 28, 2022 notice of the over-a-year-old violation was necessary is unclear. Cummiskey told the City Council Nov. 1 that the DEP required and wrote the notice. 
“At no time was there a threat to public health and safety,” Cummiskey said. Mayor Zack Mullock added that “it was the regulation that changed, not the water.”
Thoughts? Questions? Email vconti@cmcherald.com.

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