DEP Adopts Strictest PFAS Standards in Nation – Win for Public Health
Last week, the Department of Environmental Protection submitted their proposed rule for setting maximum contaminant limits on PFOA and PFOS to the Office of Administrative Law. PFOA (perfluorooctanoic acid) and PFOS (perfluorooctanesulfonic acid) belong to the PFAS family of forever chemicals. The rule was proposed last year and would have expired if it was not submitted to OAL by April 1 of this year.
“The State of New Jersey has stood up for public health and against forever chemicals. New Jersey has now adopted one of the strictest standards in the nation for PFOA and PFOS. This is a big step forward towards protecting public health from toxic forever chemicals. By adopting these standards, DEP is protecting the roughly 1.6 million people who are exposed to these chemicals in New Jersey. These standards will be easily implemented by water purveyors. This is especially critical because New Jersey is one of the most affected states in the county, with over 500 water systems in the state contaminated with PFAS,” said Jeff Tittel, Director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. “What the DEP has done is important. They should be sharing this news proudly instead of adopting this rule quietly.”
The rule submitted by the DEP is one of the strongest in the nation. It would require drinking water from private wells and public utilities to contain no more than 14 parts per trillion for PFOA and 13 ppt for PFOS. This is far stronger than the 70 ppt guideline set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
“This is an important milestone. New Jersey has the fourth-highest levels of these forever chemicals in the nation. It is important that the DEP is moving forward with these health-based standards of 14 ppt for PFOA and 13 ppt for PFOS because the federal limits are too weak. These chemicals are particularly dangerous because they bioaccumulate in a person’s body and cause significant health problems like cancer and a weakened immune system. While it is good that DEP is moving forward in setting stricter standards for these chemicals, we believe that the standard should be lowered to a more protective 5 ppt,” said Tittel.
Last year, the NJDEP issued a PFAS ‘Directive’ to test, treat, and remove chemicals from soil and water. The ‘Directive’ was to five chemical companies accused of contaminating many areas of NJ with PFAS chemicals. The DEP recently made a statement saying that it will take years to resolve NJs dispute with these companies and address PFAS contamination throughout the state.
“Now that these standards have been adopted, it is important that they are implemented quickly. Water purveyors in New Jersey need to start developing strategies to remove these chemicals from our drinking water. Even though these standards are some of the strictest in the nation, we really need to ban these chemicals to get them out of the environment and protect public health. These chemicals are extremely toxic and dangerous. Repeated exposure to PFOS can lead to developmental defects in children and pregnant women, liver and kidney problems, and even tumors,” said Jeff Tittel. “These new standards are even more important because, under New Jersey law, the groundwater and drinking water standards are the same.”
Last year, the DEP identified five companies responsible for extensive contamination in New Jersey. These companies were Solvay, DuPont, Dow DuPont, Chemours and 3M. The DEP issued a directive under the authorities granted by New Jersey’s Spill Compensation and Control Act, Water Pollution Control Act and Air Pollution Control Act requiring them to clean up the toxic PFAS chemicals.
“By setting these strict state-level standards, the DEP is making sure that toxic cleanups in New Jersey are held to them as well. In New Jersey, site remediation laws and cleanup standards are based on drinking water quality standards. With these new standards in place, it is critical that New Jersey holds companies accountable for cleaning up sites to the new levels. For too long, companies like Solvay, DuPont, Dow, Chemours and 3M have been polluting the environment and people of New Jersey. In Salem and Gloucester County, PFOS found near the Solvay site were seven times over the standard. People in places like Pompton Lakes and Carney’s Point have been living in a toxic nightmare for decades. We have even found PFOS in our fish, even from the most pristine areas,” said Tittel. “New Jersey needs to go after these companies and make sure that they follow the new standards when conducting cleanups.
PFAS are chemicals used in products ranging from Teflon pans to stain-resistant clothing to firefighting foams. Many sites in New Jersey, like the Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base Willow Grove and Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, used fire fighting foams and have prevalent contamination of PFAS there.
“This also means that federal cleanup sites across New Jersey will now be cleaned up using strict, health-based standards instead of weak federal standards of 70 ppt. This is important because the army at Fort Dix will have to adopt this standard under case law. The DOD will have to use the new NJ standards for military cleanups like Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, and the FAA for cleaning up contamination near the Atlantic City Airport. We have won court cases to get the military to meet these standards,” said Jeff Tittel.
New Jersey’s standard for PFAS is one of the strongest in the nation. More importantly, it will protect the state’s drinking water from the lack of action of the federal government to do so. During the previous Administration, Governor Christie froze all rules and standards, including those recommended by the Drinking Water Quality Institute. Now, the Institute that sets drinking water standards has not met in over a year.
“New Jersey is making our own standards for harmful chemicals in our water because we can’t trust the federal government to make strong enough standards to protect our communities. We thank the Murphy Administration and DEP for moving forward by adopting stricter standards for PFAS. However, DEP must set stricter standards for the more than a dozen chemicals found in our waterways. It is also concerning that the Drinking Water Quality Institute, which is responsible for setting and amending drinking water standards, has not met in over a year,” said Jeff Tittel, Director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. “New Jersey is standing up to protect our drinking water because the Trump Administration is siding with polluters and endangering public health. This is a major win for the environment and the people of New Jersey.”