Warren Officials Questioning Details of Water Supply
Deputy mayor says any presence of the chemical PFOA is too much—and recent studies say he may be right.
After meeting with officials from New Jersey American Water Company in July, Deputy Mayor Vic Sordillo wanted to know more about what the company knew about a carcinogenic chemical testing showed is present in some of Warren's water supply.
The chemical is known as PFOA—Perfluorooctanoic acid—and testing on the company's Canal Road treatment plant in Franklin Township found small levels of the chemical. The plant provides water service to sections of Warren and Watchung.
But Sordillo noted the chemical presents such a long-term health risk, he doesn't think any should be in drinking water supplies. And he is finding a lot of support among scientists studying the chemical and its impacts.
PFOA is found in dozens of products around the home—it's used to make non-stick pans and stain-resistant fabrics; it's used in microwave popcorn bags and refreezable ice packs. It's so common that some studies have concluded it is already present in the bodies of most Americans—a study paper published in the July issue of "Environmental Research" notes "PFOA persists in humans with a half-life of several years and is found in the serum of almost all U.S. residents and in populations worldwide."
Which is why it's so troubling: as Sordillo noted at the meeting, the chemical stays in the body for long periods of time and is linked to kidney and testicular cancers—as well as hypertension in pregnant women, ulcerative colitis and thyroid diseases, and more, according to the largest study of the chemical's effects published July 30. That study was conducted on more than 30,000 residents of West Virginia and Ohio who had been subjected to decades of PFOA exposure through drinking water contaminated by a PFOA manufacturing plant.
New Jersey American Water correctly points out PFOA is not a regulated contaminate, so its presence in the water is not an issue it needs to address. The testing results provided to Sordillo by New Jersey American Water showed one year's results, with levels generally falling well-below a suggested guideline of 0.040 parts per billion (the highest test showed a level at 0.018 ppb; three tests fell below 0.005 ppb, considered "non-detectable" for the test).
But since the chemical stays in the body for years, some say any additional intake has substantial health risks. The "Environmental Research" article notes many people have a baseline of 0.04 ppb of PFOA in their bodies, so consuming even the "low level" of 0.018 adds a nearly 50 percent increase in the body's PFOA level.
How much is too much? When the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection studied PFOA in the mid-2000s, the department recommended the 0.040 ppb threshold. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency uses a different standard: 0.4 ppb, set in the EPA Provisional Health Advisory value for PFOA—which may appear to be much higher, but it should be pointed out that at that level, the EPA says you can expect health impacts within two to three years. The DEP, on the other hand, focused on long-term levels and impacts.
The DEP has put any further action on PFOA on the backburner, but the evidence is mounting that prolonged exposure to even minute amounts of PFOA can be expected to have consequences.
The final question is where is the chemical coming from, but studies have found PFOA present in many water supplies—when the DEP studied it, the department found PFOA in measurable levels in about 59 percent of the 56 water supplies it tested. It's ubiquitous presence make pinpointing any particular sources difficult, but wastewater effluence and runoff are likely prime sources.
Sordillo said he wants to see the testing results for the Canal Road plant for 10 years to get a better idea of what the exposure has been.
He also said the Township Committee may discuss the situation further at the Aug. 16 meeting.
This article was edited to correct the results of the DEP testing.