The plastics manufacturer Solvay Specialty Polymers says it found traces of a chemical that has been linked to some cancers in seven private water wells in the South Jersey townships of West Deptford and East Greenwich.
The results are the first in the latest round of water testing by the company near its West Deptford plant, which has been the focus of state and federal investigations into the source of contamination by perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs).
Company spokesman David Klucsik declined to specify the levels of perfluornonanoic acid (PFNA), one of the PFC family of chemicals, detected in the seven wells.
Nor would he say if any of them exceeded the 0.02 parts per billion (ppb) concentration proposed by the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection as the upper limit for safe consumption.
After testing public water systems in surrounding townships earlier this year, the company in May began sampling private wells in West Deptford and East Greenwich, and said it found “quantifiable” levels of PFNA in seven of them.
The company said on June 25 that it is testing 90 private wells, and had so far validated results for 50 of them by an independent review after sampling by a state-certified laboratory.
“In this first set of validated results, PFNA was not detected in the majority of samples,” the company said. “Quantifiable levels of PFNA were detected in seven wells.”
Solvay, which state officials have said is the likely source of contamination, also said the tests suggest there are other possible sources for the chemical.
“Detailed analysis cannot be performed until all results are validated but the first set of results suggests that other potential sources for PFNA may exist in the study area,” the company said in a statement.
Klucsik declined to say what the other sources might be, indicating only that the locations and data obtained in the testing “suggest the likelihood of sources other than Solvay.”
The company said PFNA was found in “isolated groups” of wells that were separated by others where the chemical was not found. It said property owners are being given a full set of their results but that only aggregate data will be released publicly in order to protect individual privacy.
Delaware Riverkeeper Network (DRN), an environmental group that says PFC contamination in drinking water is a threat to public health, called on Solvay and the Department of Environmental Protection to disclose all the results while withholding individual addresses in order to protect property owners’ privacy.
“The public should see how high these levels are rather than allow Solvay to provide vague descriptions of the problem,” DRN said in a statement.
The group has called for a much stricter standard for PFNA than that proposed by the DEP.
Larry Ragonese, a spokesman for the DEP, said the levels of PFNA detected “could be troubling” but said filtration technologies are available to remove the chemical from water supplies. “It’s a very solvable situation,” he said.
Ragonese accused the DRN of trying to “scare the heck out of people” by warning of the dangers of PFCs, in contrast to the DEP which he said is working systematically to find a solution to the issue.
“Once we know more in the next few days about these tests, we will be talking to the homeowners, and we will ask them what they want us to do and we will act on it,” Ragonese said late last week.
In January, the DEP said it was unaware of any studies linking PFNA in drinking water with illness.
The chemicals, which are used in consumer products such as textile coatings and food packaging, have been linked to testicular and kidney cancers in humans, and reproductive and developmental problems in animals. The company said it voluntarily stopped using the chemical in 2010, and no longer uses any type of PFCs.
The company said its testing “should not be taken to mean that there is any health issue with respect to PFNA or that Solvay is in any way responsible for PFNA if it is found.”
The testing, which will look for eight types of PFCs, is due for completion by late August, and will cover all of the chemicals found even though the investigation is focused on PFNA, the company said.
In nearby Paulsboro, public water testing by the DEP found PFNA at 0.096 ppb, the highest in a statewide study, while an independent study for the Borough of Paulsboro last September found one of the town’s three public wells contained the chemical at a higher concentration of 0.15 ppb.
The Paulsboro tests led the DEP to advise residents to use bottled water for young children, and prompted an ongoing investigation by the federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Control, in cooperation with the New Jersey Department of Health.
Solvay has been supplying bottled water to Paulsboro residents, and will do so for those in West Deptford and East Greenwich, Klucsik said.
“Solvay will continue to offer all property owners who participated in the sampling with bottled drinking water, free of charge, while analysis of validated results is ongoing,” he said.
PFCs are not regulated by state or federal authorities although the DEP has issued a “guidance” level for one of them, PFOA.
In May, the DEP released long-awaited results from a probe into PFC contamination statewide, reporting that two-thirds of 31 municipal water systems tested in 20 counties during 2009 and 2010 were found to contain PFCs.
Contamination by three types of PFCs throughout the state is being investigated by the Drinking Water Quality Institute, a panel of academics, government researchers, and water company officials that advises the state on public water standards. The institute, which in April resumed its work after a hiatus of almost four years, will recommend maximum contaminant limits (MCLs) for PFNA, PFOA and PFOS.
Samuel Cianfarini, a former committeeman in the Township of West Deptford, said he had pressed for one of the town’s wells to be shut down because of PFNA concerns last December but resigned after becoming dissatisfied with the town’s slow action on the issue.
“Whenever there’s pollution in someone’s drinking water, in whatever amount, it should not be there, and it’s a big issue,” he said.