Though 65 percent of the human body is composed of water, the human brain is even more dependent on a ready supply. In Paulsboro, that’s an issue because the developing brains of infants and children, may have been exposed to contaminated drinking water.
Tests have shown high levels of a perfluorinated compound (PFC) for which no safe limits have been set. But the state Department of Environmental Protection, citing “an abundance of caution,” has told residents not to give the tap water to any child under a year old.
No wonder angry residents pummeled their officials and representatives of the company that used the PFCs, Solvay Specialty Polymers, with concerns at a recent borough council meeting.
“My son is 3,” one resident said. “What’s the difference between a 3-year-old and a 1-year-old?”
Good question, and it needs an answer.
Solvay, a plastics manufacturer based in nearby West Deptford, stopped using the chemical in 2010 when the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency asked it to. However, the recent tests show that the compound has migrated. Last month, West Deptford shut down one of its own wells as a precaution, but it has five others. Paulsboro’s only other wells are off-line due to a radium contamination issue.
Given the lack of alternate supply, local officials and company reps aren’t treating this with the same sense of urgency as the public. We’ve seen this scenario too often in South Jersey.
Solvay has arranged for limited deliveries of bottled water, but even these have been disrupted in bad weather. The DEP, Solvay and local officials have to do better. This involves a whole town, maybe two towns, and possibly broader aquifer contamination.
Solvay did lay out a four-step plan that includes testing area water supplies and assessing possible solutions. But that’s a slow slog to fix what might be an imminent health issue.
What’s possible? Temporary connections with nearby “clean” water supplies? A stronger link between affected systems and New Jersey American’s Delran regional plant? Solvay should have to pay for whatever solution means safe water.
Also, the DEP and EPA must step up the pace to establish safe limits. Too many suspect chemicals have sneaked in under regulators’ noses in recent years.