Cancer-linked PFAS in NJ drinking water need greater regulation: Pallone
A New Jersey congressman and environmentalists are urging the federal government to take action to protect millions of New Jersey residents from a group of chemicals found in more than 500 drinking water supplies across the state.
U.S. Rep. Frank Pallone Jr., a Democrat whose Sixth District stretches along coastal portions of Monmouth and Middlesex counties, is urging Congress to adopt legislation that would regulate PFAS, or per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances.
The chemicals are used in various types of manufacturing, such as non-stick cookware, grease-resistant food packaging, cleaning products, fire-fighting foams, and stain- and water-repellent fabrics.
"This legislation is critical to stopping the flow of these harmful chemicals into our environment, drinking water, cooking products and more," Pallone said in a news release. "I look forward to the full House voting on this bill soon.”
The Environmental Working Group, an organization dedicated to protecting human health, applauded Pallone's help in the call for stronger federal regulations.
"It’s time for Congress to finally address the growing PFAS contamination crisis,” said Scott Faber, senior vice president for government affairs at the Environmental Working Group
PFAS accumulate in the environment and body and are believed to cause cancer, impede the immune system and affect infant birth weights, and disrupt thyroid function, among other harms, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
The federal agency sets no limits on PFAS in drinking water, but has announced non-binding "health advisories" for the chemicals. The agency also established an action plan in February to address the growing contamination concern across the nation.
In 2018, New Jersey established its own limits on PFAS at 13 parts per trillion. In contrast, the EPA's recommended drinking water limits are five times higher, at 70 parts per trillion.
"PFAS are persistent, toxic chemicals that last forever and spread through our water, air and soil," Pallone said in a news release. "New Jersey has some of the highest levels of PFAS contamination in the country."
In New Jersey, the Environmental Working Group found some of the highest levels of PFAS contamination at the former Naval Air Warfare Center in Trenton. There, PFAS concentrations were 27,800 parts per trillion, more than 2,138 times the state's limits.
On the McGuire side of Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, PFAS concentrations were 294,900 parts per trillion, or 22,684 times the state's limit, according to the EWG report.
The House Energy and Commerce Committee — on which Pallone serves as chairman — has passed legislation to regulate PFAS and clean up waste sites. The bill is slated to head to the full House of Representatives.
In July, New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Catherine R. McCabe testified before the congressional House Oversight and Reform Environmental Subcommittee about the importance of setting strict federal limits on the chemicals. She also urged the committee to require manufacturers to share information about chemicals they produce.
"New Jersey and other states have repeatedly urged the EPA to move forward with setting regulatory limits for PFAS under the Safe Drinking Water Act, but the EPA has been very slow to act," McCabe said in a news release in July. "New Jersey therefore moved ahead to set its own guidelines."
PFAS are "pervasive" in New Jersey ground water, surface water, fish tissue samples, drinking water and private wells, according to the DEP.
In March, the DEP directed five companies — Solvay, DuPont, Dow DuPont, Chemours and 3M — to provide detailed accounting of their PFAS discharges in New Jersey. The requirement included discharges through wastewater, air and sales of products containing PFAS.
"As the most densely populated state in the country and one of the most industrialized, New Jersey has had a particularly high occurrence of PFAS contamination in drinking water," McCabe said in July. "That is why we have taken the threat of PFAS chemicals so seriously, and have played an early, leading role among the states in addressing this problem.”
Earlier this year, a group of Princeton University researchers announced they were studying a microbe that was able to break down PFAS in lab vials.
“We knew this was a big environmental challenge, to find an organism that could degrade these perfluorinated organics,” lead researcher Peter Jaffe said in a news release in September.
Over 100 days, the bacteria were able to break down 60 percent of the PFAS in the lab vials, according to Princeton University officials.
“We would like to get the removal higher, and then go and test it in the field," Jaffe said.