Contaminant in New Jersey Drinking Water Linked to ADHD

Tom Johnson | July 2, 2010
New study reveals relationship between slightly elevated levels of POFA and higher incidence of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder in children

The state is being urged to move rapidly to adopt tougher standards for a contaminant found in drinking supplies in some New Jersey wells after a new study found a link between exposure to the chemical and the incidence of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.

The report by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences shows a relationship between slightly elevated levels of perfluorooctanoic acid (POFA) and a higher rate of ADHD diagnosis. PFOA is an industrial chemical used in making non-stick cookware and water- and stain-resistant products.

“This report is an alarm bell going off,” said Jeff Tittel, New Jersey Sierra Club director. “New Jersey needs to move to adopt stricter regulation of POFA in drinking water.”

The contaminant has been detected at low levels in public water supplies throughout New Jersey, including at some public wells near the DuPont Chamber Works site in Carney’s Point Township. The current level New Jersey health-based guidance for the chemical was developed in 2007.

The finding led the Department of Environmental Protection to launch a couple of studies of public water systems around the state. The agency is in the process of finishing a report on 33 community water systems that will be handed over to the Drinking Water Quality Institute, according to Larry Hajna, a spokesman for DEP.

Draft Due By Year’s End

The institute, which was established to set drinking water standards for a wide range of toxic contaminants, is expected to issue a draft recommendation for POFA by the end of the year, Hajna said.

In 2008, the DEP’s Division of Science recommended lowering the limit for the contaminant found in water from 6 parts per billion to .04 ppb, according to Tittel. Scientists felt that not only is POFA a carcinogen, but also it could lead to other problems. The new study by the institute is evidence of a connection between the chemical and health and behavioral problems in children, Tittel argued.

“The DEP can no longer hold up strengthening standards to protect the public health of our families. The science shows that any more delay means more of this chemical getting into our children. Delay means more pollution and more health problems,” Tittel said.

In a status report on the problem last August, the department said the development of a maximum contaminant level for PFOA should be given a top priority by the Drinking Water Quality Institute. Hajna said the department is still completing its latest study of 33 drinking water supplies.

“The commissioner feels it is important to gather as much scientific data as possible before making broad announcements,” Hajna said.

According to the status report, the agency has sent letters to four public water systems with annual average POFA levels exceeding the guidance level of 0.04 ppb recommending that the water systems monitor and develop plans to reduce the contaminant levels. The systems included New Jersey American, Pennsgrove; United Water, the city of Orange; New Jersey American, Logan Township; and United Water, Rahway.