From Lead to Leaks: Problems Continue With Trenton’s Water

By Annette Espinoza, Jared Kofsky & Joshua Trifari

How is lead contamination impacting Trenton residents? Over a year after high levels of lead were found in the water of most of the capital’s public schools, the answer to that question remains unclear.

In recent years, there have been widespread concerns across the United States with aging infrastructure, particularly in regards to lead levels in the water supply systems and paint in some of the nation’s metropolitan areas. In 2014, over 100,000 residents of Flint, Michigan, a small city that like Trenton, was once a riverside industrial powerhouse, were discovered to have been exposed to excessive levels of lead.

“This is an issue that has been on people’s radars for decades,” Jane Rosenblatt, a program manager at Downtown Trenton-based New Jersey Future, told The Wall in the spring. However, as a result of the recent revelations, ”people are starting to pay attention to some of the daily impacts of our antiquated water infrastructure, so we’re likely to see something happening in the coming years as far as investments,” she explained.

In the years that followed, New Jersey schools began to test their drinking water for high lead levels, and the results in some districts shocked many parents. In the state’s largest city, dozens of schools were found to have elevated levels of lead, prompting Newark students to be forced to drink from bottled water.

A few weeks later, according to The Trentonian, Trenton Water Works General Superintendent Joseph McIntyre testified that “we don’t have a lead issue” in Trenton, and that “we’ve never had a leadbased problem here in the water.”

However, in October 2016, it was revealed that in 20 of Trenton’s older school buildings, including Daylight/Twilight Alternative High School and Grant Elementary School, there were levels of lead in the water that were above the US Environmental Protection Agency’s recommended guidelines.

The extent of the problem in New Jersey’s cities today is quite unclear. Rosenblatt stated some cities contain water mains “that can date back to the Civil War,” and that part of the reason why many recent discoveries of water contamination have been in cities is because ”urban centers are where some of our oldest infrastructure is.”

In response to these crises, several New Jersey organizations and agencies are calling for improvements.

Rosenblatt is one of the leaders of Jersey Water Works, a 300-member statewide organization dedicated to upgrading New Jersey’s wastewater, drinking water, and stormwater infrastructure. Members range from local organizations like Isles to engineering films, according to Rosenblatt, who stated that ultimate goal is “investing in cost-effective sustainable solutions that benefit the communities served by these systems.”

Jersey Water Works has partnered with New Jersey Urban Mayors Association to develop policy recommendations as to how to best update water infrastructure.

Meanwhile, Environment New Jersey is also seeking similar improvements to prevent future crises. Doug O’Malley, the organization’s director, stated that “obviously, most people can’t shell out the thousands of dollars that you can use to replace it, but a lot of what we want to do is start up with testing to be able to expose the extent of the problem and then use long-term state funding to try to ultimately replace our pipes.” 

O’Malley cited Madison, Wisconsin and Seattle, Washington as examples of places that are currently “getting this right.”

Yet what actions are being taken right now to keep residents safe in Trenton, and should residents continue to trust that their tap water is reliable?

A hydrologist in the United States Geological Survey’s New Jersey Water Science Center who asked not to be identified told The Wall that “the USGS hasn’t collected any samples of water quality from the Trenton water system that I know of,” and that he does not know whether or not there is significant lead in the city’s water.

“Most, if not all, drinking water in Trenton comes from the Delaware River and does not have detectable lead concentrations when it enters, much less leaves, the water treatment plant on Route 29,” the hydrologist stated, adding that “any lead in water in Trenton is likely derived from the municipal (under-the street) pipes and/or building plumbing.”

This means that it is largely up to the individual building or shelter to test whether their water is safe to drink and that organizations should replace old copper pipes or lead pipes with new lead-free solder copper pipes while covering or removing lead paint.

So what can you do for now to see if your water is safe to drink? In order to find contaminants, the hydrologist and Rosenblatt recommended that you run the water for at least 45 seconds to a few minutes before drinking it. If you notice discolored water, you should advise water or building officials.

However, some New Jersey leaders feel that tackling the lead in the water is just the beginning of the solution to improving the state’s infrastructure. “

Yes we have to address the lead in our pipes, and that’s obviously a concern, but we want a more comprehensive approach to infrastructure investment than that,” said Dan Fatton of the Ewing Township-based NJ Work Environment Council and the recently established Jersey Renews environmental campaign. “We know that we have to invest big money into our pipes underground but also in the things that we see above ground like sidewalks and schools and other buildings,” he added.

The need for investment in infrastructure in New Jersey’s capital became evident on May 6, when a water main break caused another flood, this time in the Wilbur Section. One unexpected consequence of the damage caused by the incident was displacement for residents in the community.

As The Trentonian reported, the Fleming family was forced to leave their residence following the hurricane-like flooding, as were other homeowners and renters in the area. According to Julie Janis of the Trenton Area Soup Kitchen, many clients of hers who are experiencing homelessness were previously renters, but were forced to leave the properties that they called home following unsafe living conditions inside, such as pipe bursts and structural damage.

Like the individuals behind Jersey Renews, New Jersey’s non-profit organizations are building up to improve the environment of cities like Trenton, a goal that, according to Fatton, “is incredibly ambitious but eminently doable.” However, considering the crisis of elevated lead levels and other issues facing cities across the state and the country right now, the question is, will that be enough?

This story will continue to be updated as the conditions of Trenton’s water supply change.

Photo by Jared Kofsky

Scott: What I Learned from Being a Triumphant Teen

By Essence Scott

I was in the inaugural group of Triumphant Teens when the program first started over ten years ago in 2005. I knew very little about high school at the time; and I knew less about what to do when I graduated. The purpose of the program, originally implemented by HomeFront, is to give at-risk teens a vision of a life that includes college and mainstream employment and to prepare them for such opportunities.

I am the first in my family to graduate from high school—a fact that I am incredibly proud of. Had the Triumphant Teens program not been around, I feel that I would have dropped out of school at age seventeen, at the beginning of my senior year of high school.

My younger brother and sister were also Triumphant Teens. In the program, we prepared documents and applications for college, received help with our homework, and participated in job-readiness workshops. It was in this program that I created one of my first résumés.

This invaluable learning experience, along with my first job at HomeFront’s main office on Princeton Avenue and, later, at their Family Preservation Center (formerly at the Katzenbach School of the Deaf, now called HomeFront Family Campus on Celia Way in Ewing) and prepared me to work and socialize in a professional setting.

The program also helped prepare me for college. I am the first person in my family to attend college, and there was so much that I did not know at the time. In all honestly, I did not enjoy college as much as I probably should have because of my mental health; still, however, I am grateful for the experience and to the resources that I received that made my attendance possible.

In addition to résumé building and other professional development skills, the program taught me the importance of hard work and true grit and the rewards that come of this. I also learned this from my parents, who have worked tirelessly to provide for my siblings and me.

I learned how to come to work on time, how to dress for an interview, what to say at an interview. While a computer literacy class my freshman year of high school jumpstarted this all, I still needed to learn about other things with individuals who shared my experiences growing up.

While the majority of the students in my freshman year computer literacy class could seek help with their résumés from their parents and would have no problem getting a job, I could not. Triumphant Teens provided me with this advantage and filled the void.

To my knowledge, the Triumphant Teens program no longer exists; and this saddens me. There is a critical need for such programs for adolescents growing up in particularly challenging circumstances. In addition to providing them with the support to move forward with their academics, the program disperses important information and practical life skills related to ethics in the workplace, ré- sumé building, and SAT or ACT preparation, among others.

It provides teens with a safe, welcoming environment in which they can realize their goals and cultivate the educational, vocational, and relational skillsets that they need to achieve these. The Triumphant Teens program helped me tremendously in receiving the jobs that I have gotten over the years. Perhaps, more importantly, it has given me the confidence and motivation that to pursue these

Scott: Visits to Princeton Inspire HomeFront Artists

By Essence Scott

Children experiencing homelessness do not always feel safe within themselves. When I was homeless, I experienced this uncomfortable reality. When I moved to Connecticut Avenue, I still felt like I was homeless; I had to readjust.

There was one place where I felt my absolute safest: the Arts Council of Princeton on Witherspoon Street. I went there with HomeFront on Thursday nights for art class.

A lot of the time, I was the oldest one there, but that did not matter to me. On Thursday nights, we worked with a number of different artistic mediums—painting, clay, and the performing arts, among others.

I have many fond memories of being swept into the world of A Christmas Carol at McCarter Theatre in Princeton. I loved the times when McCarter performers came to teach us a little something; it gave me hope that we very well could be actors and actresses. It also helped me learn a great deal about the world and perceive it as one big stage—full of opportunity, rehearsals, reruns, and final performances.

Attending these art classes also helped me escape for a little bit. In school, I was exceptional, but introverted and I did not make friends easily. While I felt purposeful at school, I did not exactly fit in. When I was with HomeFront, I was still on edge because I was usually one of the oldest in the group—people of my age tended to be volunteers—but the opportunities that these art classes afforded me made it all worth it. I was learning to be present with myself and practicing new and constructive ways to express my feelings and thoughts.

The Thursday night art classes quickly become a staple—something that I could look forward to every week. I did not always like being at home, a small motel room with too much stuff and not enough room; the art space soon became my respite from all this.

One night, I remember visiting a mural near the Arts Council with my class. I felt something stir in me when I looked at the mural; it inspired me to write one of my first poems. Much like the images on the mural, I felt safe, insulated by this world that someone else made. I knew that I could express this with my writing—something that I had found comfort and solace in for years—and so I began to write and I have not stopped since then.

The class at the Arts Council helped me to find myself. One time after a nighttime excursion with a person that I thought I trusted went horribly wrong, I felt lost and isolated. I could barely write anything, and I was so afraid of everything around me. At class that week, we were doing fairytale retellings. I wrote a Sleeping Beauty retelling that involved Cinderella as her sister. I put a grim spin on the text and spilled my negative feelings and thoughts onto the page.

The experience of doing so was euphoric and I felt much better afterwards. I needed to confront the hurt and anger that I was feeling and had it not been for the particular focus of class that night, I may have succumbed to my mental torment. In this instance and many others, the art class provided me with a safe and productive outlet to challenge and cope with the hurdles in my life.

Right now, there is much that I want to pursue in life. I want to write, play sports, and be an actress. The art classes that I attended as a teen and a young adult gave me a safe haven to work through some of my most difficult experiences growing up; they taught me to take control of my thoughts and emotions in ways that make my dreams realistic and attainable today.

Strokes That Make it Pop with Local Artist Demond Williams

By Annette Espinoza

Our previous few editions have featured the vibrant and joyous work of Trenton native Demond Williams. Here is a look into the life of the man behind the brush.

“It all started with graffiti,” Williams recalls. From the age of 12 to 18, the thrill of his one and only vice was defacing the walls of his own city. But before that, Williams remembers spending hours drawing as a child. It was a drawing of Mickey Mouse that assured him and his parents of an opportunity, a “way out” of the plights of a troubled city limiting black men like him.

It was Williams artistic nature that paved a way for him: cultivating his skills to explore and express the world around him through color, even when it was at its grimmest. The artist’s signature method of mixing surrealism with visually jazzy and bombastic tones is meant to convey fluidity and movement in his work. This and his many other artistic choices are all deliberate and are meant to take his audience by surprise—they push beyond the boundaries of the ordinary.

But before he was able to press his tools against a canvas, his first strokes of colors were on cardboard and then the streets of Trenton. “I don’t know how to be bad, it’s just not in me, but graffiti was my bad.” Before enjoying the modesty and safety of being behind a canvas, Williams remembers a time where art was not as simple. Knowing that his parents would be disappointed and the high risks of being arrested and ticketed associated with being caught vandalizing, young Williams was always cautious. Nevertheless, it was an exhilarating feeling for him.

Williams outgrew the adrenaline of the graffiti after a piece was interrupted by the bouncing blue and red lights on the wall of a city street that he was working on. He remembers hiding against the floorboards that night. And although determined to finish his work, the lights were too daunting and he left the peice unfinished. “

It was time to take it to the next level so I began to work on painting cardboard boxes and then canvases,” said Williams. He also worked to fine-tune his artisitic abilities and pursued a bachelors degree in commercial art. With increased knowledge of terminology, technicalities, and guidelines as to what “good art” was, Williams felt boxed in; after the death of his father, the young artist took a sabbatical to make art his own way. His biggest take away from one particualrly challenging and unusal assignment. The assignment was to paint a brown paper bag with every color he saw on the bag with the exception of brown. Williams knew exactly what his professor meant. Understanding colors through values of hot and cold, the colors he saw went well beyond just the earthy brown; he recognized deep blues and hot reds and saw into the texture of what the bags looked like when it was crumpled.

“It was a language I understood. It was unorthodox and I could relate to it,” Williams said. Soon after this assignment, the artisit crossed paths with the Trenton Community A-TEAM (TCAT). There, he shared creative spaces with other aspiring artists including Walter Roberson and Susan Darley (among many others), who inspired and motivated one another.

Currently living in Georgia where he copes with Multiple Sclerosis, Williams looks back fondly at his time in Trenton, his youth, and his time with TCAT. Art to him is not just about the completed piece. In the process of creating his work, William’s can feel his heart racing and his head flooding with memories, emotions, and thoughts.

At times he expresses that these sensations can get overhwelming to the point where he is forced to walk away. And yet, to Williams, this is the beauty of art—in all its forms: “I love the moment when you see musicians hold a tune, that bliss, and satisfaction of holding and controlling this instrument that manipulates emotions and makes people feel sad or good. That’s what music and art does.”

While his style has certainly changed over the years, Williams will always return to his artisitic roots: on a recent trip to a gallery with his wife and children, he remembers seeing a piece called “White on White”. “All I could think of was how to deface it.”

Williams continues to make art and often sends it back to TCAT where his pieces hang on the wall of the soup kitchen (TASK) and TCAT’s newest building, Stockton 51. Other pieces are special orders and inquiries that he gets from his self-managed Instagram page where he showcases his work.

So what does the future hold for Demond Williams? “I want to have my work in galleries and have my work viewed by a wider audience. I have a lot to cultivate, I am still a student and I am defintiely still learning.”

You can find Demond’s work on his Instagram account (divinetreeurban) and reach him via email at divinetree7@gmail.com.

 

#VotingBlockNJ: The Wall Hosts Political Potluck in Trenton

On November 7th, New Jerseyans will head to their neighborhood polling place to cast their votes for the 2017 gubernatorial election, as well as for State Assembly and State Senate. Two public questions are on the ballot as well, and residents of many municipalities will also vote for positions such as Freeholder, Board of Education member, and Mayor. As Election Day nears, news outlets across the Garden State are hosting ‘Political Potluck’ events in the communities that they serve as part of Voting Block, an initiative that is being coordinated by Reveal from the Center for Investigative Reporting and Montclair State University’s Center for Cooperative Media in partnership with outlets such as WNYC in New York, WHYY in Philadelphia, and NJ Spotlight.

In order for the voices of Trenton residents, especially individuals experiencing homelessness and/or poverty in New Jersey capital city, to be heard as part of Voting Block, The Wall, which is published by The College of New Jersey’s Bonner Institute in collaboration with the Mercer Alliance to End Homelessness, recently held a Political Potluck in the city. The event was held in partnership with the Trenton Community A-TEAM on Wednesday, October 25th at the Stockton 51 gallery on North Stockton Street in the Old Trenton neighborhood.

The dinner was catered by Trenton’s own Thomasena’s Restaurant, and signs advertising the Political Potluck were posted across the city, including at the CEAS Center, the Trenton Area Soup Kitchen, the Henry J. Austin Health Center, Catholic Charities, and the Orchid House. Flyers were also distributed to residents who are experiencing homelessness.

Although the team at The Wall was unsure how many Trentonians would attend, we were fortunate to be joined by around a dozen area residents during the meal to discuss a variety of issues related to public policy. Attendees included individuals experiencing homelessness who are currently staying at the Rescue Mission of Trenton, patrons of the Trenton Area Soup Kitchen, local artists from the Trenton Community A-TEAM, community members who run the Orchid House, and residents of the surrounding Old Trenton neighborhood.

The event began with all attendees introducing themselves, and one participant sang to his fellow residents. Discussions included public transportation in the Trenton area, and the possibility that the River Line could one day be expanded to the New Jersey State House. Attendees also talked about the need for increased funding for public schools in Trenton, charter schools, the ‘food desert’ crisis that is facing the city and other urban areas across the state, vacant properties in their communities, a lack of shelters and housing in general for people experiencing homelessness in New Jersey, high taxes in the Garden State, the “epidemic” of drugs in the state, racism, classism, corruption among New Jersey politicians, police brutality, and the importance of the public questions.

During the Political Potluck, most community members who came said that they were either unpleased with candidates Phil Murphy and Kim Guadagno, or that they did not know about Murphy and were not interested in voting for Guadagno because of their dissatisfaction with Governor Chris Christie. One attendee, who said that she votes in every election, told the group that she is considering boycotting this election.

Regarding homelessness, one attendee experiencing homelessness discussed how “the Rescue Mission is the one and only shelter,” explaining how people of all ages are staying there. She stated that her fellow residents are “carrying bags all day” and “struggling with mental health issues,” adding that she believes that some of the cost of operating these kinds of temporary shelters would be better spent on providing individuals experiencing homelessness with permanent housing.

“When you walk around the city, there are so many buildings that are empty,” she explained, citing how the former Mercer Hospital, which is currently vacant, could be converted into housing for people in need.

“There are so many properties that are vacant, but they can really be used for something good,” she told the group.

This is the first in a series of reports about The Wall’s Political Potluck in Trenton. More articles about the event will be posted on thewall.pages.tcnj.edu.

Written with and for individuals experiencing homelessness in the Trenton, New Jersey area.