New Jersey has issued new advisories on eating locally caught fish, for the first time considering pollution from chemicals used to make materials such as Teflon, Scotchguard and firefighting foams.
The 13 perfluorinated compounds looked for by the state Department of Environmental Protection in 11 locations are associated with developmental abnormalities and other health problems, said Rutgers University Professor Keith Cooper, of the biochemistry and microbiology department.
The DEP issued a report recently on the results of the testing. All locations tested would have some level of fish consumption guidance, from “one meal per week” to “do not eat,” according to the report.
“We are adding PFAS to the suite of contaminants we will be testing for in the future,” DEP spokesman Larry Hajna said. “This is sort of putting our toe in the water with the 11 water bodies where we suspected we would find PFAS near manufacturers or companies that have used these chemicals.”
PFAS are per- and polyfluorinated substances, and include the 13 perfluorinated compounds the DEP looked for.
In South Jersey, three sites were tested: two locations on the Cohansey River, which feeds into the Delaware Bay, and had the state’s lowest overall levels of PFAS; and Fenwick Creek Tributary in Salem County, near the former DuPont facility at Deepwater in Carneys Point, now called Chemours Chamber Works, which had much higher levels. That facility is under an EPA Corrective Action Site cleanup to address contamination from its making of chemicals, dyes, plastics and ingredients for Teflon.
Cooper is also the chairman of New Jersey’s Drinking Water Quality Institute, which has recommended maximum contaminant levels for PFAS. But those standards have not yet been made mandatory for drinking water providers by the DEP, said Tracy Carluccio, deputy director of the Delaware Riverkeeper Network.
“This shows these toxic compounds are in the New Jersey environment in many places,” Carluccio said. “It reinforces the need for NJDEP to take action on the drinking water standards and for cleanup.”
Cooper said the substances have been used for more than 50 years, and are in a wide variety of products made by companies such as DuPont, 3M and others. They are in the Scotchguard that protects carpets and furniture from stains, and in the materials used in outerwear to make it waterproof.
They are also in firefighting foam used by the military and in aviation, and are among the pollutants that caused the Federal Aviation Administration’s property at Atlantic City International Airport to be placed on the national Superfund site list.
“In U.S. they have been voluntarily phased out,” said Cooper, replaced by new compounds that are now being researched to see if they present their own health problems.
PFAS present problems because of their persistence in the environment and their ability to accumulate in the meat of fish and in human bodies, he said.
In contrast, other chemicals the DEP tracks — such as dioxin and PCBs — concentrate in the fat of fish and can be removed during the cleaning process to a great extent, Cooper said.
“In general we are seeing the contaminants in the fish going down for the more traditional contaminants like mercury, PCBs and pesticides,” Hajna said.
For locations tested for PCBs, mercury and pesticides. but not for PFAS, testing resulted in less restrictive advisories for 36 species than had been in place, while 24 saw no change. Ten advisories are now more restrictive, according to the DEP.
Hajna said the DEP will test more waterways for PFAS and will update fish advisories for specific locations on the web site fishsmarteatsmartnj.org.
For the DEP’s PFAS study report, visit nj.gov/dep/dsr.