PAULSBORO A federal agency has agreed to investigate the presence of a little-examined but toxic contaminant in Paulsboro and nearby towns, just as the state appears poised to take on the issue.
The U.S. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry indicated it would investigate the presence of perfluorononanoic acid (PFNA), a type of perfluorinated compound (PFC), in the South Jersey area, the Delaware Riverkeeper Network announced Tuesday. The group filed a petition in August asking for the examination.
Tracy Carluccio, deputy director of the network, said the agency would work with the state Department of Health. Officials may sample groundwater, air, and soil and conduct blood tests. It was not clear when the investigation would begin.
The agency's involvement arrives as the state Department of Environmental Protection is seeking public comment on a proposal for an interim groundwater criterion for PFNA, which is currently unregulated. The proposed standard - 20 parts per trillion - is far below the levels found in Paulsboro, where the contaminant has been found as high as 150 parts per trillion.
Days after comments are due April 21, the Drinking Water Quality Institute, an advisory panel that has been dormant since 2010, is to meet April 29. Gov. Christie appointed three members last month.
An agenda for the revival meeting includes discussion of a recommended maximum contaminant level for PFNA and similar toxins.
"Action is happening," Carluccio said. "And we want to make sure everything keeps happening."
Some studies have shown PFCs to be toxic in animals, causing adverse health effects. The PFNA contamination - described in a DEP document as "higher than reported elsewhere in the world" - is alleged to stem from a West Deptford plastics company, Solvay Specialty Polymers.
In January, Paulsboro filed a notice of intent to sue Solvay. A borough source said Paulsboro remained "prepared" to do so if Solvay didn't implement a fix.
A representative for the company did not immediately return a call Tuesday for comment.
Solvay has maintained that it was working with the DEP to find a solution, saying also that it stopped using PFCs voluntarily in 2010. The company has supplied bottled water in Paulsboro; a DEP notice advised families not to feed the water to children under age 1.
A number of local municipalities have also shut down wells because of the contaminant's presence, including West Deptford, Woodbury, and East Greenwich. Many are standing by for state guidance.
"I will not activate that well until the NJDEP provides us guidelines," East Greenwich Mayor Dale Archer said in a recent interview.
Paulsboro's two other wells have been off-line as systems are upgraded to filter high levels of radium, a naturally occurring and regulated contaminant.
The borough's attorney, Brad Campbell, a former DEP commissioner, said officials expected those wells to be back online "by the end of this week," allowing the town to stop relying on the contaminated supply.