Friday, September 23, 2016

Agency wants to reduce PFOA in NJ drinking water

A New Jersey agency has proposed adopting what would be the most stringent standard in the nation to control levels of a cancer-causing chemical linked to an array of health problems and which is prevalent in drinking water systems across the state.

James M. O'Neil reports for The Record

The chemical, commonly called PFOA or C8, has been used in the manufacture of stain-resistant carpets, waterproof clothing, non-stick cooking pans and other products that make life less messy. It has spread so far through the environment that it can be found everywhere, from the fish in the Delaware River to polar bears in the Arctic.

It has also become the subject of thousands of lawsuits.

The state’s Drinking Water Quality Institute on Thursday proposed the standard, which, if adopted, would require water utilities to treat water to reduce the amount of PFOA reaching taps.

“The institute is taking a pretty aggressive approach on PFOA,” said Howard Woods Jr., a private consultant to water utilities and a former water company executive. “It’s a good idea. The institute is deliberate and not rash. The stuff is all over the place.”

Smaller water utilities, including some in North Jersey, have said the extra treatment would be a major financial hit.

“System by system, you’ll find issues where the cost of treatment is prohibitive compared to finding an alternative water source, so some towns might abandon wells and buy water from a neighboring system,” Woods said.

The current state health advisory standard for PFOA is 0.04 parts per billion. The proposed standard is 0.014 – nearly three times lower – and many drinking water systems in the state have had levels above that.

The contaminant is found much more frequently in drinking water in New Jersey than in many other states. Sampling conducted by the state in 2006 and 2009 showed PFOA at levels above the state’s current standard in Garfield, Atlantic City, Brick, Greenwich, Montclair, Orange, South Orange, Paulsboro, Rahway and New Jersey American Water’s Logan, Raritan and Penns Grove systems.

The Montclair system has been blending water and is testing to determine if that lowers the levels. The two Orange treatment plants with high readings have been shut down. So has a treatment plant in Paulsboro. New Jersey American has installed treatment systems to remove PFOA at its Penns Grove and Logan systems, according to the state Department of Environmental Protection.

More recently, the federal Environmental Protection Agency over the past two years has detected PFOA in levels of at least 0.02 parts per billion in 14 drinking water systems, including Ridgewood Water, Fair Lawn, Garfield, Wallington and Hawthorne.

The institute’s proposed new standard drew praise from environmental advocates. “PFOA is a very significant carcinogen, it doesn’t degrade in the environment and levels are increasing over time, so it’s entirely appropriate for the state to regulate it,” said David Pringle, Clean Water Action’s New Jersey campaign director, who served on the Drinking Water Quality Institute from 2002 to 2010 and pushed the institute to address the issue.

The institute Thursday also unanimously approved recommending a maximum standard of 0.03 parts per billion for 1,2,3-trichloropropane, another contaminant found in drinking water. It is a man-made chemical solvent and a likely human carcinogen.
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