News articles in the past week have brought to light an issue involving contaminated water supplies in some New Jersey municipalities, including South Orange. A specific chemical, PFOA, was found in levels exceeding the NJ Department of Environmental Protection’s guidelines. PFOA is a “likely carcinogen,” according to the federal Environmental Protection Agency.
The Village distributed a press release on Sunday evening detailing the situation and the steps it is taking to remediate it. The release is attached in full as a PDF below.
PFOA is “part of a family of perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs) that have been linked to some cancers in humans and reproductive and developmental problems in animals,” according to an article in NJ Spotlight. PFCs cannot be boiled out of water or removed with typical water filters, according to the release.
The Village will conduct independent ongoing testing of the well where the contaminated water was found, and will work with consultants to “determine the current blending levels and any remedial actions needed.”
However, officials pointed out that the well represents only 10% of the water introduced into the distribution system and is blended with other non-contaminated water before being delivered to consumers. “As a result, the water actually delivered to consumers likely has PFOA levels below the guidance limits.”
This is not the first time South Orange has experienced water woes. East Orange Water Commission (EOWC) has supplied South Orange’s drinking water since 1996. However, the Village severed its contract with EOWC in 2014 after learning it had been cited for exceeding the allowable concentration of one volatile organic compound tetrachloroethylene (PCE), in South Orange’s drinking water.
In February 2013, two top EOWC officials were indicted and charged with manipulating water test results; one pled guilty (the other is since deceased). DEP officials later assured local officials and residents the water was safe to drink, and the town has continued to conduct its own independent monitoring.
South Orange entered into a new contract with New Jersey American Water (NJAW), which is effective January 1, 2017.
Here are excerpts from the release:
“The Village first became aware of the overall PFC issue, including specifically the test result on the South Orange well, last week as a result of a telephone call from a DEP Assistant Director in the DEP Water Operations Element. At that time the Village first learned about PFCs, including the fact that they are not a regulated contaminant, and that the EPA and DEP have been studying PFCs for at least the past 10 years, including water sampling and scientific research to determine whether PFCs should be regulated and, if so, what would be the appropriate regulatory limits.
We also learned at that time and in the past week that, in connection with those ongoing studies, the EPA developed Provisional Health Advisory levels protective for short-term exposures to PFOA of 400 parts per trillion (ppt) or (ng/L). The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJ DEP) developed a guideline for chronic (lifetime) exposures to PFOA of 40 ppt (ng/L)….
…the EPA required the EOWC to conduct such tests and we learned this week that a test of the raw ground water from South Orange’s Well #17 resulted in a PFOA level of 58 ppt, which, while substantially lower than the EPA short term Advisory level of 400 ppt, exceeded the DEP guideline for lifetime exposure of 40 ppt. Prior to last week the Village had not been notified or advised by either the EOWC or the DEP of the testing of Well #17 or of the results. We are currently investigating how and why we had no prior notice.
…the Well #17 water represents only about 10% of the water introduced into the distribution system and it is blended with other non-contaminated water prior to delivery to any consumer. As a result, the water actually delivered to consumers likely has PFOA levels below the guidance limits. In addition, the one test result, 58 ppt, was only about 14% of the US EPA Public Health Advisory limit of 400 ppt for short term exposures. It did exceed the NJ DEP guideline of 40 ppt, but that is for chronic or lifetime exposure.”