The federal Environmental Protection Agency yesterday issued new health advisories for two chemicals used in a wide variety of consumer goods that have been detected with increasing frequency in drinking water supplies in New Jersey.
The effect of the advisories is to replace previous warnings associated with the health risks of exposure to PFOA (perfluorooctanic acid) and PFOS (perfluorooctane suflonate).
The new advisory establishes levels that are considerably lower than those set by a short-term health advisory that has been in place since 2009 and used as a trigger by communities to take action when the chemicals are found in drinking water.
In New Jersey, where high levels of PFOA have been found in at least 12 public water systems in testing dating to 2007, environmentalists hailed the federal agency’s action and urged the state to take quick action to adopt enforceable standards for the two contaminants.
“Many more people are now drinking water that is not considered to be safe, exposing them to the risk of harmful health effects and the potential to develop serious diseases,’’ said Tracy Carluccio of the Delaware Riverkeeper Network.
The short-term federal guidance level for PFOA is 400 parts per trillion (ppt). The health advisory issued yesterday is 70 ppt for short-term exposure. In New Jersey, the state Drinking Water Quality Institute has posted a guidance level of 40 ppt for long-term exposure to the contaminant.
The federal agency requires water systems to monitor for both PFOA and PFOS, but has not established drinking-water regulations for the contaminants. Public water systems can close wells where the contaminants have been found or try to remove them with various treatment systems.
The EPA said it established the new health advisories bases on the agency’s assessment of the latest peer-reviewed science. The agency’s health advisories, however, are non-enforceable, mainly providing information to consumers and water-system operators.
The chemicals have been used to make carpets, clothing, fabrics for furniture, and cookware that are resistant to water, grease, or stains. In 2006, major manufacturers of PFOS voluntarily phased out production of the chemicals, but there are a limited number of ongoing uses, according to the EPA.
“It is a good that the EPA is finally moving forward to set standards for these dangerous toxins,’’ said Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. PFOA is found in many wells in New Jersey, especially in South Jersey near the DuPont site, according to Tittel.
The exposure of people, especially fetuses, infants, and children, to these toxic compounds is intolerable and must be addressed on an emergency footing, Carluccio said. Fetuses, infants, and children are particularly vulnerable because of negative developmental impacts.