The federal government is convening a national summit to take action on manmade chemicals linked to a series of health problems in water systems across New Jersey and in other states.
The summit, to be hosted by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, is aimed at taking immediate actions to protect public health, according to Scott Pruitt, the administrator of the agency, who announced the plan in a letter to the governors of U.S. states and territories.
The issue of how much risk is posed by per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFASs) — manmade chemicals widely used in household products because of their stain-resistant, waterproof, or nonstick properties — is hotly debated not just in New Jersey, but elsewhere as well.
Last November, the state Department of Environmental Protection, after years of delay, announced it would impose the nation’s toughest drinking-water standard for perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), a PFAS used in nonstick cookware and food packaging. It has been found in some parts of about three dozen water systems in New Jersey; the standard is expected to go into effect in a year.
“The states have been on the front lines of addressing PFAS issues, so the Environmental Council of States (ECOS) is glad to see the EPA recognize their urgency and engage the states early in this process,’’ said Sambhav Sankar, its executive director.
Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder said a national effort is needed to review the expanding scientific research on these contaminants, as well as possible responses and recommendations.
“Having a national dialogue on this growing concern could be instrumental in establishing standards, protocols and best practices that will allow all state and federal partners to comprehensively address these contaminants across the country,” Snyder said.
Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club, argued, however, that it is important for the state to have stronger standards, saying New Jersey cannot rely on the Trump administration to adopt regulations to protect the public.
“We must make sure the people of New Jersey are not being exposed to PFAS, or other toxics in our water,’’ Tittel said. Studies show that exposure to the chemicals can cause damage to the liver, thyroid, and hormone levels.
New Jersey’s new limit of 14 parts per trillion (ppt) for PFOA is stronger than what the EPA has established for the contaminant. The chemical has been used in fire-fighting foam employed at airports and military installations, such as Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, where ground and surface water have been contaminated.
The new limit was recommended by the state’s Drinking Water Quality Institute, a panel of scientific advisers to the DEP, which met infrequently during parts of the Christie administration.
According to EPA, the summit, to be held in May in Washington, D.C., will aim to characterize risks from PFAS and review monitoring strategies and treatment techniques for dealing with the contaminants.