Paulsboro Residents Worried About Safety of Tap Water

Paulsboro residents filed a federal lawsuit against Solvay, claiming they released chemicals affecting tap water.

By Christie Duffy

The chemical is a perfluorinated compound, known as PFNA. It’s potentially dangerous. And it’s not regulated. DEP findings point to plastics company Solvay as a probable source.

“They’re poisoning us, and they hid it,” said Shirley Johnston.

Johnston, a Paulsboro resident, is part of a federal lawsuit against the company. More than 50 families are suing. She’s been buying eight cases of water a week for her family to cook with and drink with, and only using the tap water to bathe.

“I have babies here and now they’re telling me these kids should not have been drinking this water,” Johnston said.

The DEP and Solvay both agree they’re working together to discover the source of the chemical, but while the DEP says preliminary findings point to Solvay. The company says no hard documentation exists to back that up.

“Solvay has emitted since at least 1985,” said Delaware Riverkeeper Network Deputy Director Tracy Carluccio.

It’s never been tested on humans but the DEP says rodent testing shows PFCs can cause delayed growth, weight loss, toxicity of the liver, kidney and immune system, and problems with male reproduction.

The company has been providing free cases of water at the local hardware store. It’s been recommended that kids under 1 year old not drink from the tap.

The Delaware Riverkeepers Association analyzed the data and says the DEP did not act on the findings soon enough.

“They totally dropped the ball. In 2009 Delaware Riverkeeper filed a right to know request and received data that showed that per fluorinated compounds are in water systems throughout New Jersey’s many water systems,” said Carluccio.

About five towns with the highest levels of PFNA — a type of PFC — are looking into their water systems. They include Paulsboro, West Deptford and East Greenwich — which also shut down some drinking wells. Paulsboro’s well can’t be closed, according to town officials, because right now, it’s the town’s only water source.

“We could not find a higher level than for what was recorded for Paulsboro in 2009, in the entire world,” Carluccio said.

The DEP has put out a temporary standard on the unregulated chemical. Twenty nanograms per liter is the limit for drinking water, but Gloucester County towns have levels more than 10 times that amount.

“Everybody that draws water from that aquifer which is pretty much all of South Jersey,” said attorney Lewis Adler.

Adler is one of the attorneys suing on behalf of 50 families. He wants Solvay to pay for a filtration system and blood tests.

“They’re the working poor. They don’t have the money to say I’m going to rent a hotel room until this is solved. They’re stuck,” said Adler.

Assemblyman John Burzichelli was mayor of Paulsboro when the water plant was built. He says the DEP apparently knew then about the PFNA but didn’t recommend a filtration system.

“We told what we knew when we knew it. There was no discussion to do anything other than run the tests. And report the results to the DEP,” Burzichelli said.

The DEP says the highly-contaminated well in Paulsboro will be taken out of service on Thursday.

The town’s water will come from its two other wells, where the DEP says water quality has improved.

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