A New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection advisory panel subcommittee on Tuesday released a draft recommendation to establish a significantly lower limit on the unregulated chemical perfluorooctane sulfonate, or PFOS, in the state’s drinking water.
A New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection advisory panel subcommittee Tuesday released a draft recommendation to establish a significantly lower limit on the unregulated chemical perfluorooctane sulfonate, or PFOS, in the state’s drinking water.
If the draft recommendation is approved, the health-based maximum contaminant limit of 13 parts per trillion would be the lowest in the country, and more than five times lower than the 70-part-per-trillion health advisory level that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency considers to be safe over a lifetime of consumption.
The DEP’s Drinking Water Quality Institute Health Effects Subcommittee, made up of health and environmental researchers, developed the draft recommendation and will present it at a meeting on Nov. 28, alongside drafts by two other subcommittees.
At the meeting, the institute likely will announce how long it will accept public comments and how they can be submitted, DEP spokesman Larry Hajna said. After considering public comments and the three drafts, the next step would be to submit a formal recommendation to the DEP commissioner.
The subcommittee arrived at the limit after exposing mice to PFOS and observing negative effects on their immune systems, and then adding some uncertainty factors for how humans might respond. The researchers also looked at cancer risk, but they determined it was too uncertain to use as the basis of the recommendation.
“However, the estimated cancer risk at the health-based MCL of 13 (ppt) is close to the New Jersey cancer risk goal of one in one million,” the subcommittee’s draft concluded.
The DEP announced earlier this month that it is moving forward with limits for two related chemicals, PFOA (14 ppt) and PFNA (13 ppt), but, if the draft recommendation is approved, it would be the first time PFOS has been regulated in the state.
“New Jersey has been at the forefront of addressing these contaminants of emerging concern and we’re committed to using the best and latest science available to develop formal drinking water standards that are protective of the public,” Hajna said.
Since the chemicals are unregulated, states are free to set their own limits, although only a few have done so and none has been as active as New Jersey. The DEP originally recommended a 40-ppt limit for PFOA in 2007 — two years before the EPA issued its original recommended levels of 400 ppt for PFOA and 200 ppt for PFOS, which it lowered last year.
“We are definitely very fortunate to have this system in place where we have a panel of the state’s leading experts in drinking water that has established a very solid track record of developing standards tailored to New Jersey’s needs,” Hajna said, noting that the DEP is able to provide technical assistance to other states that may not have such a system.
“It is essential that state governments take the lead in developing and adopting MCLs for these toxic compounds because the federal government is not taking that action and is not expected to adopt any federal MCL that can be used nationwide. And the HAL that was issued by EPA is simply not protective enough and doesn’t reflect current scientific findings,” said Tracy Carluccio, deputy director of Delaware Riverkeeper Network.
Doug O’Malley, director of Environment New Jersey, agreed and urged the DEP to approve the institute’s recommended limits.
In New Jersey, PFOS was found in samples taken from approximately 42 percent of the 76 public water systems tested between 2006 and 2016, according to the draft report. Those tests had a minimum detection limit of 5 ppt or less, however, so not all of the water systems would have exceeded a 13-ppt limit. PFOS has been found at levels above the recommended limit, and the EPA’s 70-ppt advisory level, in several private wells near where PFOS contamination occurred through the use of firefighting foams, according to the draft report.
Across the nation, a 13-ppt limit on PFOS would have significant implications. According to EPA data, 77 public water systems were found to contain PFOS during a two-year, nationwide testing program, and those tests had a minimum detection limit of 40 ppt.
A combined 27-ppt limit for PFOS and PFOA also would have significant implications for contaminated wells in Pennsylvania, where the military is providing filters or alternative water sources for only those above the EPA’s 70-ppt advisory level.
In Pennsylvania, more than 100 private wells have been found by the military to contain the chemicals at levels between 40 and 70 ppt. The military doesn’t release a full accounting of private wells and their levels, but maps from last spring appear to show approximately 70 such homes near NASJRB Willow Grove and 46 such homes near NAWC Warminster.
There were also scores of homes with 40 ppt or less, some of which could potentially exceed the limits recommended in New Jersey.