New Jersey Seeks Stricter Limit on Chemical in Drinking Water

New Jersey Seeks Stricter Limit on Chemical in Drinking Water

If accepted by New Jersey’s Department of Environmental Protection, the recommendation would mean that the chemical is subject to a “maximum contaminant limit,” allowing state officials to require operators of water systems to meet the new standard by installing carbon filters or other technology.

The proposal is the third in the last three years by the panel, officially known as New Jersey’s Drinking Water Quality Institute, as it seeks to lower the levels of perfluorinated chemicals in drinking water. State officials have already accepted earlier recommendations by the panel to lower the limits of two other perfluorinated chemicals, perfluorononanoic acid, or PFNA, and perfluorooctanoic acid, or PFOA.

The new PFOS limit, 13 parts per trillion, would be much lower than the E.P.A.’s recommendation of 70 parts per trillion for PFOS and PFOA combined, and lower than the limit set by Vermont, another state that is considered a leader in regulating the chemicals.

The E.P.A. issued a statement this week saying it would launch an initiative focused on perfluorinated chemicals that would include accelerating research, working more closely with local governments and the agency’s regional offices, and identifying ways to support local communities. The statement did not say whether the agency would seek to impose rules to curb contamination levels.

Advocates promoting the control of perfluorinated chemicals praised New Jersey’s latest proposal, which they said would likely influence other states to pursue similar regulations.

“These chemicals are extremely persistent, they’ve become global contaminants, and they can seriously impact human health at extremely low concentrations,” said Dr. David Andrews, a senior scientist with the Environmental Working Group, a Washington-based organization.

In 2015, a study by three epidemiologists of about 70,000 people living near a plant operated by DuPont in Parkersburg, W.Va., concluded that there was a “probable link” between PFOA, which had been used by the plant for decades, and illnesses that included testicular cancer, ulcerative colitis and pregnancy-induced hypertension.

Perfluorinated chemicals were used in consumer products for about 50 years until their manufacture was phased out in the United States in the early 2000s because of health concerns. But they are still made by foreign manufacturers overseas and persist in some drinking water systems, and they are present in other sources such as dust that results from the breakdown of certain consumer products, according to a report on PFOS by the New Jersey panel of scientists.

Other sources include water treatment plants, landfills and military bases that have used firefighting foam containing PFOS and other perfluorinated chemicals, the report said. Recreational fishermen who eat fish caught in waters contaminated by perfluorinated chemicals may be at particular risk for health problems.

“Environmental contamination and resulting human exposure to PFOS are anticipated to continue for the foreseeable future due to its environmental persistence, formation from precursor compounds, and continued production by other manufacturers,” the panel’s report said.

The panel’s proposal to curb PFOS was opposed by the Chemistry Council of New Jersey, a trade group for chemical manufacturers, which argued that the new limit is not based on the best available science and would increase costs for smaller providers of water and their customers.

Samantha L. Jones, the director of regulatory affairs for the council, said at one meeting of the panel that it had not considered a study of about 200 residents of Paulsboro, N.J., where last year and this year a team from Rutgers University had tested for several perfluorinated chemicals, including PFOS. The report said any health risks posed by exposure to perfluorinated chemicals had not been “firmly established.’’

Ms. Jones called the proposed PFOS limit “extremely low,” and said that it appeared “motivated by a perceived need to be first or toughest, even without scientific justification or evidence.”

But Dr. Keith Cooper, the panel’s chairman, dismissed the Paulsboro study, saying it was not rigorous enough to be included in the extensive review of published research that led to the PFOS proposal.

“The Rutgers study is too small,’’ Dr. Cooper said, “doesn’t have enough power, and was not designed to do what the Chemistry Council is saying it can do.”

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