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State Turns Attention to Two More Contaminants Found in NJ Drinking Water

DEP wants Drinking Water Quality Institute to come up with recommended levels for PFOA and PFOS

Credit: Amanda Brown
Assemblyman Troy Singleton (D-Burlington)

The state is hoping to adopt new standards governing a pair of pollutants found increasingly often in drinking-water supplies by the end of the year, according to the commissioner of the Department of Environmental Protection.

The standards would cover two contaminants recently identified by the federal government as posing health risks in the levels they’re found in public water supplies, and have been a source of concern among many local officials, particularly in South Jersey.

The state Drinking Water Quality Institute has been directed to come up with recommended standards for the compounds known as PFOA (perfluorooctanoic acid) and PFOS (Perfluorooctanesulfonic acid), DEP Commissioner Bob Martin told legislators last week.

“Hopefully, by the end of this year, we can come up with a standard,’’ Martin said during the department’s annual budget hearing before the Assembly Budget Committee.

Assemblyman Troy Singleton (D-Burlington) raised the issue, citing mounting concerns about pollution in the state’s drinking water, saying the compounds pose a significant problem in potable water. “It affects all of our areas -- rural and urban.’’

“This is a critical piece that needs to be addressed,’’ Singleton said. The two contaminants are part of a family of perfluorinated compounds (PFCs) that have been linked to some cancers in humans and reproductive and developmental problems in animals. The compounds are used in nonstick cookware, fabrics, carpets, and other consumer products.

Public concern about the quality of the state’s public drinking water is rising in the wake of numerous reports of unsafe levels of lead found in supplies at a number of public school districts, including Newark. In response, the Christie administration has announced a new $10 million program to require all public districts to test their water for lead and to report those results to parents.

In establishing new health advisories for the two PFC compounds, the agency would lower levels that have been in place since 2009 and used as a trigger by communities to take action when the chemicals are found in drinking water.

The federal guidance level for PFOA is 400 parts per trillion (ppt) in drinking water. Its advisory lowered the level to 70 ppt. The state uses a guidance level now of 40 ppt. At least high levels of the contaminant were detected in 12 New Jersey water systems at levels above the 40 ppt.

Singleton said the issue of the PFC compounds has been underreported given the attention that has been focused on lead in drinking water.

The DWQI is working to establish a maximum contaminant level for the two compounds, which would require water systems to shut down wells when levels of the pollutant have been found exceeding the standard, or to treat and remove the chemical to recommended exposure levels.

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