WOODBRIDGE – It is safe for customers to use water received from the Middlesex Water Company’s Park Avenue treatment plant in South Plainfield.
That is what Dennis Doll, the president and chief executive officer of the company, said he can’t stress enough at the first of several meetings held to address a drinking water notice that was mailed to residents during the week of Oct. 11 regarding perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA).
The meeting was held on Oct. 25 at Colonia High School.
“There is no reason to believe this is an acute health emergency,” he said, adding residents can “shower, bathe, do laundry and feed pets. This is a Tier 2 violation that merely requires a notification.”
Residents, who received the notice live in Edison, Metuchen, South Plainfield and Woodbridge.
Doll said the language in the notice was required through the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection. The water company was not able to include any public education information to further explain the notice, however, the company did provide resources on its website.
The notice stated that if a resident has specific health concerns, a severely compromised immune system, an infant, or is pregnant or elderly, they may have a higher risk so they should seek advice from a healthcare provider.
However, Doll said because the science and research regarding PFOAs in drinking water is not yet mature, the medical field does not have any information.
The New Jersey Department of Health advises that infant formula and other beverages for infants, such as juice, should be prepared with bottled water when PFOA is elevated in drinking water.
Women who are pregnant, nursing or considering having children may choose to use bottled water for drinking and cooking to reduce exposure to PFOA. Residents can consider installing in-home water treatment (filters) that are certified to lower the levels of PFAS in the water.
“If I didn’t have the knowledge, the notice would have scared me,” Doll said, adding the language put forth is part of the challenge. “The word elevated doesn’t give you any specificity whatsoever as to what you should do.”
Despite the language in the notice, Doll emphasized that “from a company perspective, our water is safe.”
PFOA is a member of the group of chemicals called per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), used as a processing aid in the manufacture of fluoropolymers used in non-stick cookware and other products, as well as other commercial and industrial uses, based on its resistance to harsh chemicals and high temperatures.
PFOA has also been used in aqueous film-forming foams for firefighting and training, and it is found in consumer products such as stain-resistant coatings for upholstery and carpets, water-resistant outdoor clothing, and greaseproof food packaging, according to the water company.
Current scientific research suggests exposure to high levels of certain PFAS over many years may lead to adverse health outcomes.
People who drink water containing PFOA in excess of the maximum contaminant level (MCL) over time could experience problems with their blood serum cholesterol levels, liver, kidney, immune system, or, in males, the reproductive system. Drinking water containing PFOA in excess of the MCL over time may also increase the risk of testicular and kidney cancer.
For females, drinking water containing PFOA in excess of the MCL over time may disrupt hormones in the body, have adverse effects on the immune system and cause developmental delays, low infant weight in a fetus and/or an infant. Some of these developmental effects may persist through childhood, according to the water company.
Doll said the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is the government agency responsible for setting legal limits for contaminants in tap water and overseeing overall water quality.
“Currently the EPA has no federal drinking water standards for PFAS compounds as it is still collecting data on health effects, analytical methodologies and treatment technologies,” he said, noting technology often moves faster than scientific data.
Doll said it is believed that at some point the EPA will set a contaminant level at the federal level for PFAS contaminants.
In the meantime, EPA has established a lifetime health advisory level – not a regulatory standard – of 70 parts per trillion (ppt) for the sum of PFOA ad PFOS in drinking water. This EPA level was established to provide a margin of protection to all Americans as well as those who are immuno-compromised or in special populations (elderly, children).
In 2020, the state Department of Environmental Protection adopted an enforceable regulation or maximum contaminant level (MCL) standard for PFOA of 14 ppt which significantly lowered the limit from its former guideline of 40 ppt.
New Jersey is one of seven states that have enforceable regulation drinking water standards for PFAS.
In early September, Middlesex Water Company received a notice that groundwater from its wellfield (groundwater) exceeded the new PFOA limit from quarterly running annual average (QRAA) samples collected in the first, second and third quarters of 2021. The results were 25 ppt, 23 ppt and 36 ppt, respectively. The current QRAA sample for PFOA is 21 ppt.
PFAS is found in groundwater, not typically found in surface water, Doll said.
“Most of the supply in our Middlesex system and eastern Middlesex County is surface water from the Delaware and Raritan Canal,” he said. “The rest is 27% and comes from wellfield supply.”
Water delivered to customers from the company’s groundwater treatment facility may be blended with supplies from its surface water treatment plant, which can help to diminish the concentration of PFOA, Doll said.
“The reality is that the levels detected in our water are a bit above the new standard so while our results are above the new standards, they are still significantly below EPA’s lifetime advisory of ppt,” he said, noting it is important to understand the water quality has not changed, the regulation has.
To put the new PFOA MCL of 14 ppt in perspective, Doll said one ppt is equal to one single drop of food coloring in 18 million gallons of water, one single second out of 32,000 years or one drop of water in 20 Olympic-sized swimming pools.
People who drink water containing PFOA over the MCL, over a period of 70 years have a one in a million chance of an adverse health effect from such consumption, Doll said.
Addressing PFOA/PFOS treatment
In 2019, the water company began evaluating treatment options to remove PFOA/PFOS from its groundwater supply.
The company has completed the design of a facility for enhanced treatment to comply with new state regulations in New Jersey for PFAS.
The plant, which is estimated at approximately $47 million, will use granular activated carbon, which has proved effective against PFOA and PFOS. The plant is expected to go into service by mid-2023.
Doll said the company has evidence to believe PFOA has been put into the ground by the 3M Corporation and has filed a lawsuit against the corporation in U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey to recoup wellfield remediation costs. He said similar lawsuits have been filed across the country.
Woodbridge Mayor John E. McCormac, Metuchen Mayor Jonathan Busch, South Plainfield Mayor Matthew P. Anesh and Edison Mayor Thomas Lankey have retained T&M Associates, headquartered in Middletown, Monmouth County, as an environmental consultant to review the notice of exceedance issued by the Middlesex Water Company to residents of their respective towns.
“We decided to pool our resources and get one consultant we could all rely on to help us through this,” McCormac said. “[T&M Associates] has a good deal of experience. … We are very confident this is the right firm to help us through this process.”
Additionally, the mayors are exploring the possibility of retaining legal counsel to further review the actions being implemented by the water company to comply with federal and state safe drinking water standards to protect the public health, welfare and safety of residential consumers.
“Metuchen residents are understandably very concerned about this issue,” Busch said. “By collaborating with other municipalities whose residents have also been impacted, we can better explore and understand the impact of the contaminants.”
Anesh said his borough has been in contact with the Department of Environmental Protection and neighboring municipalities and said they are “committed to supporting the department in its efforts to monitor the progress by Middlesex Water Company to bring their system into compliance as soon as possible and ensuring our residents are provided with safe water which poses no health risks.”
Lankey said the matter requires the guidance and assistance of experts.
“In joining with our neighboring communities, we will be engaging engineers who are specialists in these matters,” he said. “Through their expertise, they will guide us in protecting our residents and business community.”
The Woodbridge meeting is on YouTube – Middlesex Water Company Water Safety Standards Meeting, October 25, 2021 – YouTube.
Middlesex Water Company will hold additional meetings in Edison at John P. Stevens High School at 7 p.m. Oct. 28; a meeting in Metuchen at Metuchen High School at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 1; and a meeting in South Plainfield on Nov. 3.
Middlesex Water Company’s presentation is on its website. For more information, contact the company’s Customer Service Department at 800-549-3802 or visit www.middlesexwater.com/alerts