New Jersey has become the first state to regulate its drinking water for a man-made, toxic chemical compound once used in making nonstick cookware and now linked to a variety of health problems.
A new Department of Environmental Protection rule will cap the amount of compounds known as PFNAs, short for perfluorononanoic acid. For years, the state has been concerned about the level of PFNAs detected in water samples and has studied how the compounds were making their way into water. The state has even found some of the compounds in fish from recreational waterways and has begun issuing consumption advisories.
PFNAs are part of a large group of chemical compounds known as PFAS, short for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances. The compounds were also used to make firefighting foam, stain-resistant clothing, and food packaging. They have been linked to low infant birth weights, effects on the immune system, cancer, and hormone disruption. PFAS can accumulate in the body and remain for long periods.
There are no federal standards for the compounds. Environmental Protection Agency officials under the Trump administration sought to block the release in June of a federal study showing that the same class of chemicals that contaminated water supplies near military bases and other areas, worrying it would cause a "public relations nightmare." Since then, the EPA has held a series of public forums on the compounds, including one in Horsham that drew hundreds of residents.
The New Jersey rule amends the Safe Drinking Water Act to set a maximum contaminant level of 13 parts per trillion of PFNAs starting in 2019. It aligns with Gov. Murphy's much more aggressive environmental policies compared with the Christie administration, which declined to take up the issue. Environmental groups have long sought such regulation.
"Today, the state has met the challenge to protect people from exposure to PFNAs, one of the most toxic perfluorinated compounds known," said Tracy Carluccio, deputy director of the Delaware Riverkeeper Network.
PFNAs were first detected in the Delaware River watershed in Gloucester County in 2010, according to the Delaware Riverkeeper Network. The compound was found in a groundwater well in Paulsboro near the Solvay plastics manufacturing plant. The Paulsboro groundwater showed concentration of 96 parts per trillion. Higher levels were later found. The borough filed notice it would sue Solvay, which led to a water treatment system to remove the compound.
Five municipalities in the state shut down contaminated wells because of the chemicals.