NJ DEP to regulate carcinogenic chemicals in drinking water

August 14, 2017 | Energy & Environment
The regulations would require monitoring of PFNA and TLC levels, and treatment if water exceeds contaminant threshold.

Hill: Tough limits on cancer causing chemicals in New Jersey’s drinking water are on the way. Here to talk about it is Tracy Carluccio. She’s the deputy director of The Delaware River Keeper Network. Tracy, thank you for joining us.

Carluccio: Thank you for inviting us in.

Hill: You’re most welcome. Tell me this, what are PFNA and TCP and how do they wind up in our drinking water?

Carluccio: PFNA is a highly toxic compound that is used to make durable plastics. It’s one of a family of chemicals that’s called per fluorinated compounds that don’t break down in the environment and therefore, they persist for many years. As a matter of fact, indefinitely. TCP is also a man-made, human made chemical. It’s used in agriculture and also as a solvent and it made its way into our drinking water the same way PFNA did, primarily through manufacturing.

Hill: Now, we don’t use these anymore for manufacturing, so how are they still winding up in drinking water?

Carluccio: Because PFNA does not break down in the environment, it stays there indefinitely and years after it’s been released into the environment like it was at Solvay Plastics in West Deptford, NJ. It remains there, it’s in the ground water, in the soil and it finds its way because this water is soluble into people’s drinking water sources.

Hill: What’s the risk to humans, for either of these chemicals even in the smallest of levels to the highest of levels?

Carluccio: PFNA is highly toxic even when ingested in very tiny amounts. It doesn’t break down in the body, instead, it builds up in the blood because it’s difficult for the body to excrete years after exposure and can cause damaging health effects. Those health effects for PFNA include liver damage, metabolic and immune system function problems such as high cholesterol, and for fetuses and infants, it can cause developmental damage. As far as TCP is concerned, it is a highly potent carcinogen. It’s mutagenic and genotoxic, and it’s found in the drinking water of Burlington County, Morristown, specifically.

Hill: You applaud what the state DEP is doing now with these chemicals, placing these limits on it?

Carluccio: New Jersey has proposed a maximum contaminant level or a safe water drinking standard for both of these chemicals in order to require that drinking water systems across New Jersey test for them, and when they find these chemicals they must remove them. This will protect the health of the people of New Jersey. The federal government is not proposing any new maximum containment levels, so it’s up to New Jersey to protect our drinking water and make it safe for people.

Hill: What happens if the state does the test and requires a testing and different water companies, I would assume are the ones who’ve been doing the testing and have to report to the state DEP? If they come in with limits above the threshold, what happens?

Carluccio: Well, first of all, there are tried and true treatment systems that can remove these chemicals from the water. For instance, for PFNA they use activated carbon, you can also use reverse osmosis and this removes it down to below a non-detect level. By removing these chemicals from the drinking water, then we will be able to provide safe standards and they’ll able to report to people that they are receiving water that is not going to increase their chances of developing the damaging health effects associated with the both of them. If they find a level that is above what the maximum contaminant level requires, they have to stop using that water. As a matter of fact, wells in New Jersey have been shut down because of high levels of these chemicals in them. The first place PFNA was found was in Gloucester County, in the Delaware River water shed near their Solvay Plastics plant. As a result of that, five communities had to shut down their wells; they had to get new sources of water from the surface water from the Delaware River or they had to put activated carbon on the treatment systems. Paulsboro for instance, put an activated carbon system early on, on its treatment system in order to remove this toxic compound from the drinking water for the people there.

Hill: Now, New Jersey is setting the standard now perhaps for the rest of the nation with these maximum limits, is that the case and is that significant to you?

Carluccio: It’s absolutely significant because the federal government is not moving ahead with drinking water standards. It’s really left to the states to take action and New Jersey is the first state to establish a mandatory maximum contaminant level for PFNA. California has just proposed a standard for TCP and as a matter of fact, Delaware River Keeper Network is advocating that a more protective standard for both PFNA and TCP be adopted by New Jersey. We commissioned a special report by independent toxicologists to recommend between five and seven parts per trillion for PFNA and for New Jersey’s recommendation, it’s 13 parts per trillion. As far as TCP is concerned, New Jersey is recommending 30 parts per trillion, but California has just recommended five. Now, they have a lot of TCP contamination from agriculture, but we have it here in New Jersey mainly from manufacturing, and the use of solvents and labs and that sort of a thing. We as the most densely populated state in the nation, have more people exposed to these chemicals when we have them in our water. It’s absolutely imperative that the state of New Jersey move ahead and adopt these standards in order to be able to remove these toxic contaminants from our drinking water and provide us with safe water to drink every day.

Hill: You’re confident the state will adopt these new limits?

Carluccio: There is a comment period opened until Oct. 9. We encourage people to put comments on the record with New Jersey DEP. Tell them we want safe drinking water, we want these contaminants cleaned up out of our environment, which is what this maximum contaminant level will help them do.

Hill: Tracy Carluccio thank you for coming in, we really appreciate that.

Carluccio: Thank you very much for inviting us to come in.