Still waiting: VTSD lead treatment still on hold

Vernon. Having just recently received the permit from the State Department of Environmental Protection to treat lead in the water at two district schools, the Vernon Township School District takes a deep breath as it waits for approval from the Sussex County Division of Health.

11 Dec 2019 | 12:09

One down, one to go.

According to Mike Furrey, president and owner of Agra Environmental and Laboratory Services, now that the state Department of Environmental Protection has approved the permit for treating lead in the water at two Vernon Township schools, all that's left is to get approval from the Sussex County Division of Health.

Just how long that will take, in a process that's dragged on seemingly interminably, remains to be seen.

The initial application was submitted four months ago, at the same time he submitted the DEP application, Furrey said.

“We had to apply for another permit with the county,” he said. “We finally got approval from the DEP, but then the county goes, ‘You have to go through our approval process.’ I don’t know how long we’re going to wait for them to say yes.”

Furrey said his company was hired to pilot a lead remediation program at the Rolling Hills and Lounsberry Hollow schools.

In addition to asking him to re-submit the application, which he said he did Monday, Furrey said the county DOH also required a $200 fee.

“(Government) could care less if there’s lead in the water,” he said. “They do not care. They’re just pushing papers, checking boxes.”

Getting to this point in the approvals process has been an uphill battle, with state and county government agencies deflecting responsibility for the hold up.

“(DEP) blamed the county, and then when you talk to the county, the county blamed the DEP. It’s one government agency blaming the other,” Furrey said. “You have to shame them into doing their job.”

According to Vernon Township School District Business Administrator Steve Kepnes, the county health department is now requiring that the district also introduce a chlorination treatment into its water supply, in addition to the orthophosphate, which is the chemical treatment the district is seeking to add to the water to remediate lead.

Orthophosphate can potentially promote bacterial growth in the pipes, which would be addressed by the chlorination, Kepnes said.

“Since we had to re-plumb some pipes to allow for the injection of the orthophosphate, we had everything in a shed that we constructed,” he said. “It made it relatively simple to include chlorination into that.”

It was not immediately clear how long permit approval for lead treatment typically takes on the county level.

The county health department did not respond to a request for comment.

Furrey is scheduled to address the Vernon Township School District Board of Education during a work session Thursday to update board members on the project's progress, Kepnes said.