A South Jersey chemical manufacturer attacked a scientific panel’s recommendation to set a health-based limit for a toxic chemical on Thursday, saying the proposed standard was arbitrary and unscientific.
Solvay Specialty Polymers accused the Drinking Water Quality Institute of making unsupported assumptions in its formal recommendation that PFNA (perfluorononanoic acid), a chemical that has produced toxic effects in animals, should be given a maximum contaminant limit (MCL), allowing it to be regulated by the state for the first time.
The company, which operates at West Deptford near the South Jersey town of Paulsboro, sent an outside attorney and a consultant toxicologist to a public meeting of the DWQI to attack the panel’s proposal to set 0.013 parts per billion as the safe health limit in drinking water.
Judi Durda, a toxicologist with Integral Consulting Inc., told panelists that the standard was lower than any other chemical ever regulated by the state or federal governments, with the exception of dioxin; that the recommendation relies on a single study that has been questioned by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and that the panel ignored data from New Jersey that counters its assumptions.
Durda argued that no state or federal agency, including the EPA, the National Institute of Health, and the National Toxicology Program, had determined that PFNA is toxic to humans.
“The DWQI recommendations would force consumers and water suppliers, including municipalities statewide, to spend tens of millions of dollars for testing and potential treatment systems to reduce or eliminate barely detectable traces of a substance with no known health effects,” Durda said in a prepared statement.
In her presentation, she accused the panel of government scientists and water company executives of lacking scientific credibility. “You guys can claim that you are using science but you are not,” she said.
Solvay, which stopped using the chemical in 2010, has been working with the DEP to test for PFNA, and said in April that it had taken about 800 water samples from ground and surface-water sources and municipal and private wells. It found about 15 private wells in which the chemical was at 20 parts per trillion, the level at which treatment was warranted.Christopher Roe, an outside counsel for Solvay, accused the DWQI of being “arbitrary and capricious,” and said that water suppliers including municipalities would be hard-pressed to find ways of testing water for the new standard.
“Are the municipalities going to be able to test to 13 parts per trillion despite the fact that there’s no lab in New Jersey?” he asked.
Roe accused the panel of ignoring PFNA test results from Paulsboro, where the DEP found the chemical at the highest level in a statewide test in 2010.
PFNA is one of the PFC (Perfluorocarbon) family of chemicals that are used in consumer products such as textile coatings and food packaging, and have been linked to testicular and kidney cancers in humans, and to reproductive and developmental problems in animals.
The DWQI, after a brief executive session, unanimously voted to recommend to Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Bob Martin that he make a rule establishing the limit. The process, which allows for further public comment, is expected to take about a year.
If New Jersey finally implements the standard, it would be the first state to do so, and would be ahead of the federal government which has yet to set its own MCL for the chemical. The DEP currently sets a “guidance level” for the chemical.
The standard is the first to be recommended by the DWQI since about 2009, said Dr. Keith Cooper, a Rutgers University toxicologist who chairs the panel, and follows a period between 2010 and 2014 when the panel did not meet, prompting accusations from environmentalists that it had been muzzled by the Christie Administration.
Cooper dismissed the criticism by Solvay’s consultant, maintaining that the DWQI’s work was done to strictly scientific standards. “Our MCL is based on science,” he said, in an interview.
He accused Durda of “comparing apples and oranges” and failing to understand that the panel had based its recommendation on oral dose rather than blood level.
Asked why he thought Solvay had attacked the panel’s credibility, Cooper said that as a former producer of PFNA, the company is a primary source of the chemical in ground water near its factory, and is faced with its cleanup costs.
“They are very interested in what this MCL is going to mean to them because it means that you are cleaning up to a specific level in the drinking water,” he said. “It’s on their site, it’s in their ground water, there may be other sources but they are considered one of the sources.”
Tracy Carluccio, deputy director of the environmental group Delaware Riverkeeper Network, and a previous critic of the DWQI, this time praised the panel for its work, and called the MCL recommendation “a huge step forward for the protection of health of New Jersey residents.”