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Residents Respond to Water Issue

South Orange residents respond in different ways to a possible contamination of the water supply.

The recent news that South Orange’s water supply might contain elevated levels of tetrachloroethylene, a volatile organic compound (VOC) used in dry cleaning fluid, has provoked a wide range of reactions from residents.  Patch first reported on the issue . 

Some posters on Maplewood Online seem nearly panicked about the situation, with a few residents banding together to pay for an independent water test of their own.  Elsewhere in town, people are turning to bottled water or costly filtration systems.

“The whole situation is scary and infuriating,” said Karen Nicholas.  In the past, Nicholas has used a carbon filter water pitcher to combat the water’s hardness.  Since learning about the possible contamination, she and her family are drinking bottled water.  “I use the pitcher for making coffee and cooking water for things like pasta, which I would have just taken from the tap before.”  Nicholas also has consulted a plumber for information on installing a sink or a whole-house water filter.

“They are both expensive, but we drink a lot of water at our house and I don’t want to worry every time my kids take a drink.”

Nadine Kerstan is another resident who is buying bottled water for her family since learning of the issue.  “We use it for drinking and for making hot chocolate, tea and oatmeal,” said Kerstan. 

Others are sticking to their habits.  “I’m not that alarmed,” said Ondine Landa Abramson.  “I am confident that our administrators are very competent and will deal with this issue head on.”  Although Abramson and her husband are researching whole-house filters, they are steering clear of bottled water because of its environmental impact. 

Kirk Bennett, a South Orange resident who is also the director of the Passaic River Institute at Montclair State University, also is not worried.  “The standards for VOCs are set by chronic exposure; if it’s just above for a little while, it doesn’t mean it is a crisis.”  He noted that the New Jersey standards are “conservative” compared to the rest of the country. 

Coincidentally or not, bottled water sales have gone up in the last few weeks at .  “In the last two weeks we have actually doubled our water sales,” said marketing director Elyse Corwin. 

Dave Cataneo, president of Gateway Plumbing and Heating, has been receiving more calls lately from South Orange residents asking about water filters.  He said that activated carbon filters, such as those made by Brita and Pur, do not effectively filter VOCs or bacteria.   

“In order to eliminate most VOCs, lead, chlorine and bacteria, you need an undersink filter or a reverse osmosis filter,” said Cataneo.  However, he noted that in addition to being expensive, those have limited output and dump four gallons of water down the drain for every gallon of pure water they produce.  Cataneo said that new higher-capacity drinking water filters are starting to come onto the market. 

Some South Orangers are frustrated by what they perceive as a lack of information from the village administration or the water company. 

“I was not aware of the issue before I read about it on Patch, so, I don't think there was adequate communication,” said Yvette Holowczak.  “Residents should have the opportunity to make decisions for their families if there is a question about the safety of the water supply.”

Kerstan said she found out about the issue from her neighborhood e-loop.  Joe Buckner, another resident said, “There should be some communication (from the town),” said Buckner.  “We shouldn’t have to get our news from Maplewood Online.” 

Buckner would like to see the trustees address the hard water issue, which makes the water taste bad, and damages appliances and porcelain fixtures.  He and his family use a water cooler for drinking water and have considered purchasing a water softener for their house. 

“If residents feel the need to purchase softeners, filters and bottled water to address the water problems in South Orange, it amounts to an additional tax on us,” said Buckner.  Wouldn’t it be more effective if the water were treated at the source?”

Harry Mansmann, executive director of the East Orange Water Commission, said that they only way to make the water softer would be to add salt – which could pose a health issue for some people. 

Mansmann also noted that the EOWC’s test results contradict those performed by the village.  “There is no contamination,” said Mansmann.  “The health, welfare and safety of residents is paramount,” he said.  “The water from EOWC is the cleanest water in the state of New Jersey.” 

Last week, Village Administrator John Gross told Patch, “The Village fully expects the East Orange Water Commission to provide 100% compliance with all of the requirements from the DEP.”

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