On November 1st, New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (“NJDEP”) Commissioner Bob Martin announced that the Department would move forward with adopting strict drinking water standards for two emerging contaminants that studies have linked to adverse health effects. According to NJDEP’s press release, New Jersey will become the first state to formally adopt Maximum Contaminant Levels (“MCLs”) requiring statewide testing of public drinking water systems for perfluorooctanoic acid (“PFOA”) and perfluorononanoic acid (“PFNA”). In fact, the Department has already accepted the State Drinking Water Quality Institute’s recommended health-based MCL of 14 parts per trillion (ng/L) for PFOA and has proposed an MCL of 13 ng/L for PNFA. During a news conference in Voorhees, New Jersey, Commissioner Martin said that “setting protective standards for these contaminants continues New Jersey’s long tradition of being a national leader in using strong science to ensure residents receive the highest quality drinking water.”
PFOA and PFNA belong to a group of chemicals called per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (“PFAS”) that do not readily break down in the environment and remain in the body for a long time, or bioaccumulate, once absorbed through drinking or eating. For more than a decade, scientists have been studying the health effects associated with PFAS and a growing number of studies suggest that exposure to PFOA and PFNA over certain levels may lead to adverse effects, including developmental issues, thyroid and liver damage, increased blood cholesterol levels, and impacts to the immune system, as well as certain types of cancer.
PFOA has been used in a wide variety of consumer products and industrial applications, including the manufacture of non-stick cookware and food packaging. It also has been used to make upholstered furniture and carpets as well as all-weather clothing and water-resistant shoes and mattresses. PFNA has been used in the manufacturing of high-performance plastics that are resistant to heat and harsh chemicals. As a result of the wide usage of these chemicals and their persistence in the environment, PFOA and PFNA have been found in the majority of drinking water systems that have been tested throughout the state.
Public water systems that identify exceedances of the MCLs for PFOA and PFNA will need to take steps to ensure that the drinking water is suitable for public consumption. In fact, some water purveyors in impacted areas already have utilized point of entry treatment (“POET”) systems, while others have drawn replacement water from deeper, more protected groundwater sources.
Given the developing science and understanding of the prevalence of and adverse health effects associated with emerging contaminants like PFOA and PFNA, it is very possible that we will see the emergence of additional contaminants of concern and new regulation in the future.