NEW JERSEY – The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection Monday officially published its adoption of stringent, health-based drinking water standards for perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctane sulfonic acid (PFOS), chemicals that are extremely persistent in the environment and have been linked to various health problems in people.
Under rules published today in the New Jersey Register, the DEP formally established maximum contaminant levels, or MCLs, of 14 parts per trillion for PFOA and 13 parts per trillion for PFOS. The rules also add these chemicals to the state’s list of hazardous substances and sets these levels as formal groundwater quality standards for the purposes of site remediation activities and regulated discharges to groundwater.
To view the rule adoption, click here.
“Safe drinking water is a top priority for the Murphy Administration,” Commissioner Catherine R. McCabe said. “With the adoption of these standards, New Jersey continues to lead the nation in protecting public health and the environment from these chemicals, which have been detected at varying levels across the state. New Jersey’s water systems have worked voluntarily and productively with us over the years, taking steps to protect the public when these chemicals have been detected. By adopting formal standards, we are putting in place a clear regulatory framework that will ensure consistency in monitoring, public notification and treatment across the state.”
PFOA and PFOS belong to a large class of synthetic chemicals known as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS. In 2018, New Jersey became the first state to adopt an MCL for any PFAS, setting an MCL of 13 parts per trillion for perfluorononanoic acid, or PFNA. The federal government has not established MCLs for any PFAS. To date, New Hampshire and Vermont are the only other states to advance formal drinking water standards for PFAS.
The adopted standards are based, in part, on recommendations made by the New Jersey Drinking Water Quality Institute, an advisory panel comprising a broad range of water quality experts that reviewed numerous health studies and other data to support the stringent levels. Treatment technologies exist and are already in use by many water systems in New Jersey to effectively remove these chemicals from drinking water.
“I am pleased that the New Jersey Drinking Water Quality Institute was able to work with all of our partners to make these recommendations that are now being adopted by the DEP,” said the Institute’s chairman, Dr. Keith Cooper, a professor of biochemistry and microbiology with Rutgers University. “These MCLs represent a tremendous amount of work and demonstrate the commitment of scientists, business leaders and regulators to protecting our drinking water and ensuring the public health of our residents.”
All public water systems must begin monitoring for PFOA and PFOS within the first quarter of 2021. If a system’s finished drinking water exceeds the MCL, it will be required to take necessary protective measures such as adding treatment systems or taking wells out of service. All results of testing will be made public through federally required Consumer Confidence Reports that water systems send to customers and post to their websites.
The rules also include a provision that allows public water systems to submit monitoring data for PFOA and PFOS prior to start of required monitoring. To date, more than 1,000 water systems have submitted PFOA and PFOS monitoring data. This information is available on the DEP’s Drinking Water Watch website.
In addition, beginning Dec. 1, 2021, private well owners will be required to test for PFOA, PFOS and PFNA under the requirements of the state’s Private Well Testing Act, which mandates testing during real estate transactions for private residences and periodic testing for rental properties.
Sites undergoing remediation in New Jersey are now also required to determine whether these contaminants have been discharged at the site and have impacted ground water. If so, remediation activities must meet the standards established in the Rule.
The durability of PFAS made them attractive many commercial and industrial applications. While thousands of PFAS have been developed and used over the years, some of the most common were PFOA and PFOS. Both PFOA and PFOS were previously used in aqueous film-forming foams for firefighting and training at military and civilian sites and are found in consumer products such as stain-resistant coatings for upholstery and carpets, water-resistant outdoor clothing, and grease-proof food packaging. PFOA has also been used as a processing aid in manufacture of fluoropolymers used in non-stick cookware and other products while PFOS was used in metal plating and finishing.
The durability that made these substances so popular means that these chemicals do not break down in the environment and accumulate over time in people. Health effects of concern for PFOA, PFOS and other types of PFAS include impacts on the liver, decreased immune system response to vaccines, delays in growth and development of fetuses and infants, and for PFOA and PFOS, an increased risk of cancer.
After the discovery of PFOA in tap water and supply wells of a public water system near DuPont’s Chambers Works plant in Salem County, New Jersey became the first state to conduct statewide studies of PFAS in drinking water. As a result, the DEP set a PFOA guidance level of 40 parts per trillion for water systems to follow. Research on environmental occurrence and human health risk assessment has been ongoing since then.
Last year, New Jersey became the first state to issue a statewide directive ordering companies to address contamination caused by the use and discharge of these chemicals. The companies named in the directive are DuPont, Chemours, 3M, and Solvay Polymers.