New Jersey Adopts Strict Standards For Drinking Water

New Jersey recently enacted some of the strongest standards in the country to test drinking water for chemical contaminants linked to cancer and other health issues.

The state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) recently added perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctane sulfonic acid (PFOS) to New Jersey’s list of hazardous substances, set maximum advisory limits and required water utilities to start testing for both chemicals.

DEP Commissioner Catherine R. McCabe called “safe drinking water” one of the top priorities of the Murphy Administration.

National Leader

“With the adoption of these standards, New Jersey continues to lead the nation in protecting public health and the environment from these chemicals,” McCabe said in a press release.

In New Jersey, which has a long history of manufacturing and industry, PFOA and PFOS “have been detected at varying levels across the state,” McCabe said.

The chemicals, which can be found in a range of common household products such as non-stick cookware, stain-resistant repellants and cardboard food packaging, have been linked to immune system issues, cancer and other health problems, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

‘Important Step’

According to the DEP, the durability of the substances results in chemicals that do not break down in the environment and “accumulate over time” in people, leading to negative health effects.

Besides New Jersey, only New Hampshire and Vermont regulate drinking water for PFOA and PFOS, which belong to a class of synthetic chemicals known as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS.The federal government has not established any maximum contaminant levels for PFAS, the DEP noted.

“New Jersey’s water systems have worked voluntarily and productively with us over the years, taking steps to protect the public when these chemicals have been detected,” McCabe said. “By adopting formal standards, we are putting in place a clear regulatory framework that will ensure consistency in monitoring, public notification and treatment across the state.”

Testing Begins

According to the DEP, more than 1,000 water utility companies across the state have already begun testing for the chemicals.

Assemblywoman Annette Chaparro (D-33), along with Assemblyman Robert Karabinchak (D-18), commended the DEP’s adoption of new rules, calling it “welcome news.”

In a joint statement, they said, “This classification, along with the now formally established standards on maximum contaminant levels, ensures that our public health will be more strictly safeguarded.”

“As chair and vice chair of the Special Committee on Infrastructure and Natural Resources, we believe this marks a particularly important step,” they said. “As we look to build a safer, greener and more sustainable New Jersey, this step will help move the needle to achieve better testing and treatment of our community water systems.”

Standards Set

Key aspects of the regulations include:

  • The MCLs for PFOS is 13 parts per trillion. For PFOA, it is 14 parts per trillion.
  • All public water systems must begin monitoring for the two chemicals by the first quarter of 2021.
  • Private well owners will be required to test for the two chemicals as well as perfluorononanoic acid (PFNA), another member of the PFAS family, starting in December 2021 under the state’s Private Well Testing Act.
  • All testing results will be made available through federally required Consumer Confidence Reports that water utilities send to customers and post online.
  • Polluted sites in New Jersey in the midst of environmental remediation will have to be evaluated to determine any PFOA or PFOS contamination. If they do, site cleanup must include those chemicals.

The standards are partially based on recommendations made by the New Jersey Drinking Water Quality Institute, an advisory panel, whose chairman, Rutgers University professor Dr. Keith Cooper said he was “pleased” the standards were adopted.

Safe Drinking Water

“These MCLs represent a tremendous amount of work and demonstrate the commitment of scientists, business leaders and regulators to protecting our drinking water and ensuring the public health of our residents,” Cooper said.

After the 2006 discovery of PFOA in tap water and supply wells of a public water system near DuPont’s Chambers Works plant in Salem County, New Jersey became the first state to conduct studies of PFAS in drinking water, according to the DEP.

Last year, New Jersey issued a statewide directive ordering four companies, DuPont, 3M, Chemours and Solvay Polymers, to address contamination caused by the use and discharge of the chemicals.

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