Drinking Water Panel Urges DEP to Adopt Nation’s Strictest Limit on PFOA
PFOA can be reliably and feasibly removed by carefully designed GAC treatment to below the recommended health-based MCL of 14 ng/L.
Jon Hurdle | September 23, 2016
Scientists want New Jersey to reduce the permitted level in drinking water of chemical that has been linked to cancer
A New Jersey panel of scientific advisers on Thursday recommended that the state adopt the nation’s toughest limit on PFOA, a chemical that has been linked to illnesses including cancer, fetal growth problems, and high cholesterol.
The Drinking Water Quality Institute formally proposed a Maximum Contaminant Limit (MCL) of 0.014 parts per billion (ppb) in drinking water as a level that would protect public health. If adopted by the Department of Environmental Protection, the limit would be the strongest in the U.S., undercutting guidance levels of 0.07 ppb set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and 0.04 ppb by the New Jersey DEP.
The proposal, the result of more than two years’ work by DWQI scientists, will now be subject to a 60-day public comment period, after which it may be amended and then sent to DEP Commissioner Bob Martin who will begin the process of establishing the MCL which will allow the state to regulate the chemical.
The new standard, first unveiled earlier this month, is expected to set the national standard for regulation of the chemical that has been the focus of increased national attention after being reported in 27 states. They include New Jersey where 12 water systems serving about 1.3 million people were found to contain PFOA at above the state’s guidance level, according to DEP data released in January.
Gloria Post, a DEP scientist who served on the DWQI’s health effects sub-committee, told a meeting in Lawrenceville that PFOA was about five times more prevalent in New Jersey than nationally. The chemical has been found in 10.5 percent of New Jersey’s public water systems, compared with only 1.9 percent across the country, she said.
Even low levels of PFOA in drinking water can be damaging to human health, Post said. “One of our main concerns is that low levels in drinking water mean a very substantial contribution to total exposure,” she said.
The chemical, which the EPA described as a “likely carcinogen” in 2006, is also presumed to be hazardous to the human immune system, Post said. While tests on rodents and monkeys showed PFOA has a series of adverse health effects, it has also been shown to have ill effects on humans, she said.
“Human data provide strong support for a public health protective approach,” Post said, in a presentation lasting more than an hour.
PFOA, whose uses included nonstick cookware, carpets and clothing, has been phased out by U.S. manufacturers but persists in some water systems.
DWQI chairman Keith Cooper said the higher rate of PFOA detection in New Jersey partly reflects the state’s strenuous efforts to find it. “We’ve been looking for it longer than other people. We’ve been doing more analysis in the state of New Jersey than most other states combined. Some states have not even looked for it,” he said. Cooper said increased attention is being paid to PFOA and other members of the PFC family of chemicals because they were linked to fire-fighting foams on military bases.
The PFOA recommendation is the second sent to the DEP since DWQI, a group of government officials, academic scientists and water company executives, resumed work in 2014 after nearly four years when it did not meet.
Although environmentalists and public health campaigners have welcomed the panel’s restart, many are accusing the DEP of dragging its feet on the panel’s first recommendation – for PFNA, another member of the PFC family of chemicals.
The DEP has not acted on the PFNA recommendation which DWQI submitted more than a year ago, and the delay is raising more questions about the DEP’s position, Cooper said. “I am starting to ask more questions about it,” Cooper told NJ Spotlight. “I haven’t heard any discussion about a timetable or anything like that. I assume that they will be moving forward, I would hope shortly.”
Cooper said he hoped the PFOA initiative, when finalized, will be considered by the DEP along with another recommendation, for the chemical 1,2,3 TCP, which was formally approved by the panel on Thursday.
Delaware Riverkeeper Network, an environmental group that has advocated vigorously for tighter control of PFCs in drinking water, welcomed the DWQI’s measure on Thursday and urged quick action by the DEP.
“The evidence that has been presented here is nothing short of horrifying” for water in New Jersey, said DRN’s deputy director, Tracy Carluccio. While the proposed limit represents a stronger safeguard on public health, it should ideally be zero, she said. “There should be no PFOA,” she said. “Nature didn’t put it there. It was put there by responsible parties that now should be responsible for cleaning it up.”
Anthony Matarazzo, a senior official with New Jersey American Water, and a member of DWQI’s treatment sub-committee, said technology such as granular activated carbon filtration is available to allow the cleanup of PFOA and other PFCs. “By no means is treatability going to be a limiting factor,” he said.
NJ proposes stringent standard to control cancer-chemical in water
JAMES M. O’NEILL, @JamesMONeill1 9:35 a.m. EDT September 24, 2016
What is this dangerous chemical compound and where does it come from? Russ Zimmer
A New Jersey agency has proposed adopting what would be the most stringent standard in the nation to control levels of a cancer-causing chemical linked to an array of health problems and which is prevalent in drinking water systems across the state.
The chemical, commonly called PFOA or C8, has been used in the manufacture of stain-resistant carpets, waterproof clothing, non-stick cooking pans and other products that make life less messy. It has spread so far through the environment that it can be found everywhere from the fish in the Delaware River to polar bears in the Arctic.
It has also become the subject of thousands of lawsuits.
The state’s Drinking Water Quality Institute on Thursday proposed the new standard, which if adopted would require water utilities to treat water to reduce the amount of PFOA reaching taps.
“The institute is taking a pretty aggressive approach on PFOA,” said Howard Woods Jr., a private consultant to water utilities and former water company executive. “It’s a good idea. The institute is deliberate and not rash. The stuff is all over the place.”
Smaller water utilities, including some in North Jersey, have said the extra treatment would be a major financial hit.
“System by system you’ll find issues where the cost of treatment is prohibitive compared to finding an alternative water source, so some towns might abandon wells and buy water from a neighboring system,” Woods said.
The current state health advisory standard for PFOA is 0.04 parts per billion. The proposed standard is 0.014 – nearly three times lower - and many drinking water systems in the state have had levels above that.
The contaminant is found much more frequently in drinking water in New Jersey than in many other states. Sampling conducted by the state in 2006 and 2009 showed PFOA at levels above the state’s current standard in Garfield, Atlantic City, Brick, Greenwich, Montclair, Orange, South Orange, Paulsboro, Rahway and New Jersey American Water’s Logan, Raritan and Penns Grove systems.
The Montclair system has been blending water and testing to determine if that lowers the levels. The two Orange treatment plants with high readings have been shut down. So has a treatment plant in Paulsboro. New Jersey American has installed treatment systems to remove PFOA at its Penns Grove and Logan systems, according to the state Department of Environmental Protection.
More recently, the federal Environmental Protection Agency over the past two years detected PFOA in levels of at least 0.02 parts per billion in 14 drinking water systems, including Ridgewood Water, Fair Lawn, Garfield, Wallington and Hawthorne.
The institute’s proposed new standard drew praise from environmental advocates. “PFOA is a very significant carcinogen, it doesn’t degrade in the environment and levels are increasing over time, so it’s entirely appropriate for the state to regulate it,” said David Pringle, Clean Water Action’s New Jersey campaign director, who served on the Drinking Water Quality Institute from 2002 to 2010 and pushed the institute to address the issue.
The institute Thursday also unanimously approved recommending a maximum standard of 0.03 parts per billion for 1,2,3-trichloropropane, another contaminant found in drinking water. It is a man-made chemical solvent and a likely human carcinogen.
PFOA – short for perfluorooctanoic acid - is linked to kidney and testicular cancer, as well as high cholesterol, ulcerative colitis, thyroid disease, pregnancy-induced hypertension and other illnesses. There are also probable links to low birth weight and decreased immune responses.
Yet, it is among thousands of contaminants that are not regulated by federal and state governments.
The chemical is so prevalent now that it can be found in the blood serum of most people in the United States.
In 2005, DuPont settled for $16.5 million with the federal government after the EPA said the company failed to report information it had showing that PFOA posed substantial human health risks, information the company knew as early as 1981.
In 2006, the EPA asked the eight major producers of PFOA to eliminate the product by 2015. By 2010, those manufacturers had decreased emissions of the contaminant at their plants by 95 percent. DuPont has said it phased out PFOA by 2013.
In a statement on PFOA posted this year on its website, DuPont said that it “always acted responsibly based on the health and environmental information that was available to the industry and regulators about PFOA at the time of its usage.” The company said that it “was proactive in taking precautions to guard against any potential harm,” and that it “took more precautions in the use and handling of PFOA than any other company.”
In 2011 DuPont agreed to settle two class action suits for $8.3 million after it was alleged that PFOA from the company’s Chambers Works facility in Salem County contaminated drinking water supplies there. The more than 4,000 households involved were given a choice of $800 in cash or an in-home water filtration system.
About 3,500 lawsuits have been filed against DuPont over PFOA in West Virginia and Ohio. In the suits, residents claim they got sick or had a relative die because they drank water laced with PFOA from the DuPont plant that manufactured Teflon in Parkersburg, W.Va. The company could face up to $1 billion in potential damages.
PFOA seems more likely to contaminate water systems that use wells drilled into groundwater aquifers, such as those of Garfield, Fair Lawn and Ridgewood Water, which supplies drinking water to 60,000 people in Glen Rock, Midland Park, Ridgewood and Wyckoff.
Less affected are systems that rely on surface water, like rivers and reservoirs, including the reservoir system operated along the Hackensack River by Suez North America, and the treatment facility that Passaic Valley Water Commission uses to pump water out of the Passaic River.
Research indicates that filters made of granular activated carbon can remove PFOA and similar chemicals from water.
Willard Bierwas, facilities manager for Garfield, has said treating for PFOA “would be a major expense for every municipality in the state.”
Jeff Tittel of the New Jersey Sierra Club countered that the technology is affordable and can even be used to remove other contaminants from the water.
“All this great work by the institute will just go to waste unless the DEP adopts this proposal,” Tittel said.
It could be years before the new standard became official, and Governor Christie’s administration could ultimately decide to reject the institute’s recommendation.
DEP spokesman Bob Considine declined to comment on the proposed new PFOA standard, saying the agency wants the institute’s process play out.
The institute’s presentation at a meeting Thursday triggered a 60-day public comment period. The institute would review the comments before making a final recommendation to the DEP.
Drinking Water Quality Institute Documents Health Impacts of PFOA Contamination in NJ's Drinking Water Supply
For Immediate Release
Thursday, September 22, 2016
Trenton – A three-hour long meeting this afternoon by the NJ Drinking Water Quality Institute (DWQI) presented in minute detail the scientific underpinnings of the recent announcement by the Institute to propose the toughest standard in the country for PFOA (perfluorooctanoic acid, which was originally used in Teflon & other non-stick appliances) for drinking water in New Jersey of 14 parts per trillion. The extensive health impacts study showed the detailed analysis on why the Institute was recommending a health protective standard and the weakness of the current EPA standard of 70 parts per trillion. The meeting was chaired by Dr. Keith Cooper.
Today’s hearing was the kick-off of a 60-day public comment period on the proposed standard. After the conclusion of the public comment period, and upon finalization of the standard, the recommendations will be passed along to NJDEP, where their fate will rest with DEP Commissioner Bob Martin. Over the entire tenure of the Christie Administration, not one recommendation by the Drinking Water Quality Institute has been adopted. This streak has led to the introduction of Senate legislation by Sen. Ray Lesniak to compel NJDEP to adopt the recommended standards for 16 known contaminants in New Jersey’s drinking water that the NJDEP has failed to take action on.
The reports can be accessed on the Drinking Water Quality Institute’s web-page: http://www.nj.gov/dep/watersupply/g_boards_dwqi.html
Environment New Jersey Director Doug O’Malley presented public comments at the conclusion of the meeting, and presented this statement:
“PFOA is a slowly-moving crisis for New Jersey’s drinking water. This is the equivalent of having Toms River Ciba Geiby-like low-level contamination piped right into our drinking water taps. Today’s report should be a terrifying wake-up call to for a more health-protective PFOA standard, especially for young mothers and infants.
It has been more than a decade that DEP has known of PFOA in our drinking water. In 2006, concentrations of 64 parts per trillion were discovered in the Penns Grove water supply. New Jersey has the worst levels of PFOA in the country. A recent Environmental Working Group report documented that 1.3 million New Jersey residents have drinking water with elevated PFOA levels. NJDEP’s own study from 2006 showed that in 23 New Jersey drinking water systems, there were elevated levels in 65% of the samples.
There is a clear need to have the strongest standard in the country. The science is clear and it is time for DEP Commissioner Bob Martin to follow the science of the Drinking Water Quality Institute once they propose a final standard.
There is no precedent for this action because New Jersey needs to have strongest standards in the country. It is clear that the EPA PFOA standard is not health protective and the science of the DWQI will hopefully be a national wake up call for stricter water quality standards.
The science has developed over the last decade that this should be a firebell on our faucets. PFOA is a non-natural, indefinitely persistent chemical contaminant in our drinking water supply. It’s the chemical that won’t leave, and it can take up to eight years to exit our bodies.
The Drinking Water Quality Institute documented the multitude of health risks from PFOA, including liver, bladder and testicular cancers, as well as developmental impacts for young infants. Specifically, the report documented how the contaminant was discovered in umbilical cord blood, breast milk, seminal fluid and infant blood, and how PFOA levels rise in infants over the first 4 months of their lives.
We are poisoning our children at low levels. NJDEP needs to listen to the science and adopt the strongest possible standards in the country. The third report reviewed today by Institute also documented how currently available carbon and reverse osmosis filters can eliminate this threat of contamination. We thank the Drinking Water Quality Institute for their groundbreaking research and we hope this serve as a call to action for the NJDEP.”
How To Remove PFOA And PFOS
By Peter Chawaga, Associate Editor, Water Online
Last month the U.S. EPA updated its drinking water guidelines for PFOA and PFOS (also known as perfluorooctanoic acid and perfluorooctanesulfonic acid, respectively) apparently in response to rising attention paid to the dangers of these chemicals in drinking water.
Small communities in New York, Pennsylvania, Alabama, and West Virginia have all recently become concerned with their exposure to PFOA and PFOS, which found their way into drinking water supplies through nearby industrial plants and military bases. The health risks of exposure to the chemicals include developmental effects to fetuses during pregnancy or to breastfed infants, cancer, liver effects, immune effects, thyroid effects, and more. Citizens are rightly concerned over the years they’ve spent drinking contaminated water and the new EPA guidelines were designed to set stricter limits on the chemicals.
The agency’s assessment is that drinking water with concentrations of PFOA and PFOS below 70 parts per trillion will not result in adverse health effects over a lifetime of exposure.
“If these chemicals are found in drinking water systems above these levels, system operators should quickly conduct additional sampling to assess the level, scope, and source of contamination,” Joel Beauvais, the EPA’s deputy assistant administrator for the office of water, wrote on an agency blog. “They should also promptly notify consumers and consult with their state drinking water agency to discuss appropriate next steps.”
However, Beauvais’ blog post was notably devoid of any precise steps for treatment strategies for removing PFOA and PFOS. When the EPA placed the chemicals on its “Contaminant Candidate List 3” and “Third Unregulated Contaminant Monitoring Rule” years ago, the Water Research Foundation (WRF) was prompted to conduct a study into “Treatment Mitigation Strategies for Poly- and Perfluoroalkyl Substances” which has now been released.
To test for PFOA, PFOS, and other poly- and perfluoroalkyl substances (PFASs), principal investigators Eric R.V. Dickenson and Christopher Higgins evaluated 15 full-scale water treatment systems throughout the country to see how they were dealing with the contamination.
“We thought the information would be most credible if it were obtained by sampling actual water treatment facilities before and after treatment, as opposed to investigating removal in laboratory and research facilities,” the WRF said. “This approach required involving utilities in areas known or suspected to have PFOS and PFOA in their water supplies. We also wanted to involve utilities with a variety of water treatment technologies and processes.”
The facilities used a wide range of treatment methods, like anion exchange, reverse osmosis, microfiltration, river bank flotation, and more.
The WRF found that aeration, chlorine dioxide, dissolved air flotation, coagulation, flocculation, sedimentation, granular filtration, and microfiltration were all ineffective for removing PFASs including PFOA and PFOS. Anion exchange was moderately effective in treating PFOA, highly effective for PFOS, and failed to remove several other PFASs. Nanofiltration and reverse osmosis proved to be the most effective methods of removing even the smallest PFASs. Granular activated carbon (GAC) was shown to be adept at removing most PFASs and it may be the average utility’s best bet for PFOA and PFOS contamination.
“In many cases, the most cost-effective treatment for removing PFOA and PFOS will be GAC, though water utilities will need to test GAC to determine site-specific performance,” the WRF said.
According to the WRF, PFOA and/or PFOS occurrence has been discovered in 30 states. The WRF advised that any water treatment plant that’s near a chemical manufacturing operation or military base should be on alert for PFASs contamination. While the EPA’s recent guidelines are a non-enforceable suggestion, municipalities should still take heed.
“Some states may choose to regulate PFOA and PFOS based on these guidelines or, in the case of states that already have regulations for PFOA and PFOS set higher than the health advisory levels, lower the maximum amount allowed in water,” the WRF said.
At this stage, it’s difficult to determine whether PFOA and PFOS will continue to be a pressing issue around the country or if requirements to stop using the chemicals and the new EPA guidelines will be enough to curb the threat. Either way, if these contaminants are a problem we now have the information necessary to fight back.