South Orange’s Well No. 17 continues to raise health concerns

SOUTH ORANGE, NJ — Recently, there has been talk about the presence of perfluorinated chemicals, or PFCs, and one specific PFC, perfluorooctanoic acid, or PFOA, in public and private water systems in New Jersey and around the country. South Orange’s Meadowbrook Well tests showed that it has a PFC level above the guidance level, according to a Jan. 24 press release from the village.

So, what are PFCs? This refers to a group of manmade chemicals used in a number of industries for their water- and heat-resistant properties. Commonly known uses are Teflon and Scotchgard products. As a byproduct of manufacturing processes, PFCs can be released into the environment.

Some studies have found adverse health effects resulting from exposure to PFCs; however, PFCs are not currently regulated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency or the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection. As a result, public water systems have not been required to conduct regular testing for the presence of PFCs.

According to the DEP, much of the information on the health effects of PFCs in humans and animals has been recently found, though new studies are continually becoming available. In some animal experiments, PFCs have been found to cause developmental, immune, neurobehavioral, liver, endocrine and metabolic toxicity, generally at levels well above human exposures. Studies of the general population, communities with drinking-water exposures and exposed workers suggest that PFCs increase the risk of a number of health issues. The most consistent human health effect findings for PFOA are increases in cholesterol and uric acid levels.

In humans, exposure to PFCs before birth or in early childhood may result in decreased birth weight, decreased immune responses and hormonal effects later in life. More research is needed to understand the role of PFCs in developmental effects, according to the DEP. PFOA studies revealed tumors in rodents. In a community significantly exposed to PFOA through drinking water, PFOA exposure was associated with higher incidence of kidney and testicular cancers.

The Village first became aware of the overall PFC issue, including specifically the test result from the South Orange well, last week as a result of a telephone call from a DEP assistant director in the DEP Water Operations Element. At that time, the village first learned about PFCs, including the fact that they are not a regulated contaminant, and that the EPA and DEP have been studying PFCs for at least the past 10 years, including water sampling and scientific research to determine whether PFCs should be regulated and, if so, what would be the appropriate regulatory limits, according to the village release.

The village also learned at that time and in the past week that, in connection with those ongoing studies, the EPA developed Provisional Health Advisory levels protective for short-term exposures to PFOA of 400 parts per trillion. The NJDEP developed a guideline for chronic — lifetime — exposures to PFOA of 40 parts per trillion.

According to the village, South Orange officials also learned that the EPA has required public water systems to conduct investigatory testing for PFCs to provide the EPA information with the necessary data to evaluate the presence and detected levels of PFCs throughout the country, which may be used to develop regulatory limits. In that process, the EPA required the East Orange Water Commission — which will be serving South Orange’s needs until 2017, when the village switches to New Jersey American Water — to conduct such tests.

A test of the raw groundwater from South Orange’s Well No. 17 resulted in a PFOA level of 58 parts per trillion, which, while substantially lower than the EPA short-term advisory level of 400 ppt, exceeded the DEP guideline for lifetime exposure of 40 ppt. Well No. 17 was also the well where high levels of volatile organic compounds, specifically tetrachloroethylene, were found; this discovery, as well as uncovered corruption at the EOWC, is part of what prompted the village to seek an alternate water supplier once the contract with the EOWC expires Dec. 31, 2016.

According to the village, prior to last week, there was no notification or advisement by the EOWC or the DEP as to the testing of Well No. 17 or of the results. The village is currently looking into why there was no prior notice. It is important to note that the test result was of 100 percent raw source water directly from Well No. 17; however, the Well No. 17 water is not directly distributed to any consumer and rather is introduced into the system where it is blended with other water from EOWC. In fact, the Well No. 17 water represents only about 10 percent of the water introduced into the system. Moreover, the other water sources representing 90 percent of the water in the village’s system did not have any PFOA test results exceeding any limits. As a result, the blended water in the system ultimately delivered to consumers likely does not have PFOA levels exceeding any limits.

As a result of the discovery of PFOA, the village is continuing to review the history of this situation to ensure that it is promptly notified of any testing or other issues affecting the village’s water quality. As when tetrachloroethylene was discovered in Well No. 17, the village has again contacted a laboratory certified to test for PFOA and is arranging for independent ongoing testing of the well. Officials are working with consultants to determine the current blending levels and any remedial actions needed. The village has promised to continue to investigate all aspects of this situation and will keep residents informed as those efforts progress.

According to the DEP, PFCs cannot be boiled out of water or removed with typical residential-grade water
filters. As a result, any resident who remains concerned should consider using bottled water for drinking and
cooking.

3 Responses to "South Orange’s Well No. 17 continues to raise health concerns"

  1. maria   January 29, 2016 at 11:02 am

    Thank you for reporting.

  2. Felicia   January 29, 2016 at 5:57 pm

    Considering the corruption and lack of supervision at the EOWC, I see now reason why the contract can’t be ended immediately so we can switch suppliers. Why should the residents have to drink this water when the EOWC didn’t uphold their end of the contract?

    • Editor   February 1, 2016 at 9:38 am

      Hi, Felicia. Thanks for responding. One reason that the village cannot switch over now is because it takes time to update the water supply infrastructure to accommodate New Jersey American Water, rather than the East Orange Water Commission. NJAW spent a lot of effort last year updating South Orange’s pipes, but there are still some upgrades and additions to be made that will take some time.