New Jersey has become the first state to adopt a safe drinking water standard for one of the most toxic perfluorinated compounds, called perfluorononanoic acid, or PFNA.
The standard, also called a maximum contaminant level, or MCL, was published Tuesday by the Department of Environmental Protection in the New Jersey Safe Drinking Water Act rules.
Perfluorinated compounds are used in making Teflon, Scotchguard, firefighting foams and other products.
“PFNA has largely been a regional issue along the Delaware River in southern New Jersey resulting from past discharges by a specialty polymers plant,” DEP spokesman Larry Hajna said. “These systems have taken steps to address the contamination through taking wells offline, installing treatment and/or increased monitoring.”
PFNA also turned up in one well operated by the Atlantic City Municipal Utilities Authority, Haijna said. “The MUA upgraded its granular activated carbon treatment system to address (it),” he said.
PFNA was historically used in making fluoropolymers, mainly the super-tough and structurally strong building material polyvinylidene fluoride. It is extremely persistent in the environment, according to the DEP.
“This historic moment has been a long time coming and at times looked impossible, but communities persevered in their demand for clean water,” said Tracy Carluccio, deputy director of the Delaware Riverkeeper Network. Her group has been working for years to get PFNA and other similar chemicals out of the state’s drinking water.
She said New Jersey did “the deep scientific research and analysis needed, culminating in this essential rule-making that mandates a safe drinking water standard, the first in the nation for any PFAS.”
Exposure to PFNA in levels over the MCL over many years can cause problems with the liver, kidney and immune system. It can cause reproductive problems in men, and in women can cause developmental delays in a fetus or infant, the DEP said in the rule.
Drinking water providers who use groundwater sources will now have to monitor for the chemical and treat to remove it to concentrations below 13 parts per trillion.
Those who serve a population of 10,000 or fewer must begin in the first quarter of 2019, while those who serve a larger population have until the first quarter of 2020, according to the rules.
Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, are unregulated at the federal level and have been found in New Jersey’s drinking water at concentrations higher than other states, particularly in the Delaware River watershed in and around Gloucester County, according to the Riverkeeper Network.
DEP has also adopted an MCL for 1,2,3-trichloropropane, another dangerous unregulated chemical found at high concentrations in some New Jersey drinking water, according to the Riverkeeper Network.
Both new safe drinking standards were recommended by New Jersey’s Drinking Water Quality Institute, the body charged with developing recommendations under the New Jersey Safe Drinking Water Act.
The Riverkeeper Network had attempted for years to obtain through the open public records law a PFC occurrence report completed in 2009-10 for the DEP. The Christie Administration had shut down the N.J. Drinking Water Quality Institute in 2010, according to the Riverkeeper Network.
It finally got the sampling data on PFCs in the state’s drinking water systems in 2013 and made it publicly available.
The raw groundwater well in Paulsboro near the Solvay plastics manufacturing plant in West Deptford was sampled in the occurrence study, and showed concentrations of 96 ppt of PFNA, according to the Riverkeeper Network, which said its research found it was the highest level of PFNA documented anywhere in the world.
Subsequent sampling in 2013 found high levels in more groundwater, and five nearby municipalities shut down contaminated wells, the Riverkeeper Network said. In 2014 New Jersey reconvened the Drinking Water Quality Institute.
The NJ Drinking Water Quality Institute has also recommended MCLs for Perfluorooctanoic Acid, of PFOA, and Perfluorooctane Sulfonate, or PFOS3, the toxic PFAS compounds released by manufacturing and the use of firefighting foam by the military at as many as 600 Department of Defense facilities across the country.
Hajna said the DEP is reviewing those recommendations.