Just the latest in a series of delays on urgent matters of public health, environmental advocates say
Tom Johnson reports today in NJ Spotlight:
With rising fears about the presence of toxins in drinking water, local advocates say the scientific panel that is charged with recommending safety standards for New Jersey’s drinking water may be dragging its feet.
The Drinking Water Quality Institute (DWQI) put off recommending a safe limit for the presence of a particular toxic chemical in drinking water on Thursday, saying it needed more time to evaluate its health effects. The chemical, PFOA -- perfluorooctanic acid --once used in nonstick cookware, carpets, and clothing, and which is now present in some public water systems, has been the subject of a year-long investigation by the DWQI.
The institute, a scientific panel that advises the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), was expected to release its findings this week. Instead, it met in closed session and said it would recommend a safe level of PFOA on its website in August.
After a 30-day public comment period, the panel will send its recommendation for a Maximum Contaminant Limit (MCL) to DEP Commissioner Bob Martin. By setting a MCL for PFOA, the state could step up its control of the chemical through regulation.
The chemical, which the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) calls a likely carcinogen, has been found in 12 New Jersey water systems at or above a “guidance” level set by the DEP in 2009.
Advocates questioned why the group had to meet in private and complained about another delay. Dr. Keith Cooper, a Rutgers University toxicologist who chairs the DWQI, said during the public portion of the meeting that it was necessary to also hold a closed session to evaluate the findings of three subcommittees (on health effects, detection, and treatment), and so that members could speak freely.
The panel has met in closed session before, Cooper said. “In reality, we can go into closed session any time we want.”
He said the investigation of PFOA has been delayed because of the difficulty of coordinating the schedules of its members -- who include academics, water company executives, and state officials, and are all volunteers.
Environmental advocates often accuse the DWQI of moving slowly on urgent matters of public health, and note that it did not meet for almost four years between 2010 and 2014 because of what they say was a “shutdown” by the Christie administration.
Tracy Carluccio, deputy director of the environmental group Delaware Riverkeeper Network, said the public has been waiting for the DWQI to make its recommendation on PFOA for a year, and that officials who run public water systems are anxiously awaiting state action on the issue.