Federal agency to investigate toxic water in South Jersey

      (Shumita Basu/for NewsWorks)

    (Shumita Basu/for NewsWorks)

    Chemicals known as perfluorinated compounds, or PFC’s, are not currently regulated, but concerns over polluted water in Paulsboro, New Jersey and surrounding communities now have caught the attention of the federal government.

    The effects of PFC’s on people are not well documented, but animal studies suggest they may cause cancer or have other harmful effects, especially during development.

    Tracy Carluccio is Deputy Director of the Delaware Riverkeeper Network, the advocacy group that petitioned for the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry‘s involvement.

    “Having an outside, independent public health agency step in is just what we need here in this region to get to the bottom of what is going on, where the pollution is, and how people can be protected from it,” said Carluccio.

    While environmentalists have been critical of the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, Lawrence Hajna, a spokesman for the DEP, said it has been ahead of any other state in handling PFC pollutants.

    “This is something that’s been emerging over the past several years and we are going through a process now that will establish a criterion for cleanups in the state of New Jersey that would be very conservative and would use an abundance of caution to make sure that these chemicals are addressed if they are found in a water supply,” said Hajna.

    The state’s concern began after two wells in Paulsboro were taken offline because of radium contamination. That left a remaining well—with the highest levels of a particular PFC known as PFNA — as the only source of drinking water. In January, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection recommended that all residents under the age of one drink bottled water.

    The source of the pollutants is thought to be Solvay Solexis, a plastics company in West Deptford that discontinued use of PFNA several years ago but has been providing bottled water.

    “This chemical travels by air, it travels by water, it gets into the groundwater and bioaccumulates,” said Carluccio. “So over the years, Solvay using the chemical since at least 1985 we fear has saturated this region.”

    Three other municipalities, including Woodbury, West Deptford and East Greenwich, have also found PFNA in their water, although they were able to shut down specific wells, unlike the situation in Paulsboro.

    The Federal Agency will be working with the New Jersey Department of Health on the investigation, as it has previously for groundwater contamination in Pompton Lakes in Passaic County. Donna Leusner, a spokesperson for the Department of Health, said currently it’s not clear when the work will be done.

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