(NaturalNews) Two-thirds of New Jersey's public water systems are contaminated with perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs), according to a study conducted by the state's Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).
The study results have been available for years but were only published on May 1. They were kept secret by the DEP until the group Delaware Riverkeeper Network (DRN) filed an Open Public Record Act request and obtained the data in July 2013.
PFCs are a ubiquitous family of chemicals used in products from food packaging to textile coatings and stain-and-water repellants. They are also known as "Teflon chemicals," after the famous brand-name non-stick cookware that is made using them.
PFCs are persistent organic pollutants that resist decomposition and accumulate within the tissues of animals, including humans. In humans, PFCs have been linked to testicular and kidney cancer and elevated cholesterol levels. In animals, they have also been linked to reproductive and developmental problems.
The DEP study tested 31 municipal water systems in 20 New Jersey counties for the presence of 10 different PFCs in 2009 and 2010. Of 33 samples taken, 22 were contaminated -- 67 percent.
Although the study was conducted several years ago, the water supplies are probably still contaminated, said DRN Deputy Director Tracy Carluccio. PFCs do not biodegrade, and water suppliers are not legally required to remove them -- even though the technology exists for such removal.
The most commonly detected PFC in both surface- and groundwater was perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), a precursor to the manufacture of nonstick cookware and many other consumer and industrial products. PFOA was found in 18 of 33 samples (55 percent). In two of the samples (tested at Brick Township and at Bondie & Sons, Salem County), PFOA levels exceeded the DEP's "guidance level" for safe exposure of 0.04 parts per billion.
Nine of the 33 locations tested positive for PFNA, another PFC. In Paulsboro, the DEP found PFNA levels of 0.096 parts per billion; a separate test conducted by the Borough of Paulsboro itself found levels of 0.15 parts per billion in one of the town's public wells. The state has since recommended that Paulsboro residents give young children only bottled water.
State and city officials have accused chemical manufacturer Solvay Solexis of contaminating the local water supplies with PFCs.
In an unrelated study, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently found that levels of three PFCs were higher in New Jersey than anywhere else in the United States. The EPA had tested 165 large public New Jersey water systems. PFOA was found at 9.3 percent of these locations, compared with only 1.4 percent of locations nationally. PFNA was found at 2.7 percent of New Jersey locations, compared with 0.1 percent of locations nationally.
Stricter standards demanded
The DRN has called on the DEP to do further testing, and to set limits on the maximum PFC levels allowed in public water supplies.
"DEP should... do another occurrence study now, paying for the testing of public systems and private water wells themselves," said the DRN's Carluccio. "We asked them to do that back in 2013 after we got the data but they haven't done it, even after all the concern shown by the municipalities."
The DEP report said that the department is investigating options for the removal of PFCs from public water supplies. The department has also proposed a "guidance level" of 0.02 parts per billion for PFNA exposure, but the DRN criticizes this as too lenient. Fardin Oliaei, a consultant that DRN hired to assess the proposal, instead recommended a 0.0017 parts per billion threshold to ensure public safety.
"We conclude that the proposed NJDEP Groundwater PFNA criterion... would not be protective of adults," Oliaei wrote.