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Federal funds allocated to address PFAS contamination; Middlesex Water announces interim plan

Help – on the federal level – is on the way for those affected by Middlesex Water Company’s notice regarding perfluorooctanoic acid.

On Dec. 17, Congressman Frank Pallone (D-6), chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee, announced the passage of key provisions in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law for drinking water infrastructure, including $15 billion for the replacement of lead water lines and $10 billion to address per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) contamination at a press conference with local officials in Perth Amboy.

Last month, Pallone and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced that New Jersey would receive $168,949,000 from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to clean up drinking water contamination and improve the state’s water infrastructure.

Pallone also ensured that the Build Back Better Act, which the House of Representatives passed last month, included $10 billion in additional funding to remove lead contamination in drinking water and $225 million to provide assistance for low-income families.

“Help is on the way for the millions of American families who cannot trust the water coming out of their taps,” Pallone was quoted as saying in a Dec. 17 press release. “The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law is already delivering significant funding to remove toxic lead service lines and address PFAS contamination. New Jersey has some of the highest levels of PFAS contamination in the country. The state is working to address this public health threat by adopting protective state drinking water standards and pursuing natural resource damage cases.”

Pallone further said he is working at the federal level to address the toxic chemicals and ensure everyone has access to safe drinking water.

“It’s now critical that we pass the Build Back Better Act to build on this program and provide the funding communities need to remove dangerous lead pipes,” he said.

Pallone has been a longtime advocate for improving water infrastructure and removing PFAS contamination. He spearheaded the PFAS Action Act last summer, which establishes a drinking water standard for PFAS, a grant program to support community water systems, and cleanup of contaminated sites.

The congressman’s announcement comes in the wake of looming class action lawsuits filed against Middlesex Water Company and 3M Corporation following the water company’s notification to customers that their wells tested above state limits for the new PFAS/PFOA (perfluorooctanoic acid) standard.

During meetings with the public Dennis W. Doll, president and chief executive officer of Middlesex Water, explained 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.

On the flipside, municipalities affected by the water company’s drinking water notice, banded together to retain Vlasac and Shmaruk, LLC, Iselin, and Berger Montague PC, Philadelphia, to investigate the actions implemented by 3M and Middlesex Water Company to comply with federal and state safe drinking water standards.

In addition, Thomas Vera, an Avenel resident, who suffers from specific health concerns and a severely compromised immune system, filed a class action lawsuit in Middlesex County Superior Court seeking reimbursement for expenses incurred following the notice.

Along with the hiring of the law firm, municipalities have also come together to retain T&M Associates, headquartered in Middletown, Monmouth County, as an environmental consultant.

The environmental consultant is reviewing and analyzing water quality reports, tests and related documents from 3M and Middlesex Water Company as it relates to the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection’s (DEP) drinking water maximum contaminant level (MCL) standard for PFOA.

Middlesex Water Company’s initial notice on Oct. 22 included a portion of the company’s customers. On Nov. 1, the notification expanded to all residential and retail customers served by its Park Avenue treatment plant in South Plainfield.

Residential and retail customers are in South Plainfield, Clark, Edison, Metuchen, Woodbridge and Carteret.

Interim Plan

On Dec. 16, Middlesex Water announced, in a press release on its website, it implemented an interim plan, which enables them to turn off the wells in question and provides customers with water from alternate sources, which complies with all drinking water standards, including the new PFOA standard.

“In conjunction with extensive monitoring, testing and hydraulic modeling, we have turned off the wells and are continuing to keep the wells off as we work with the DEP to implement and comply with the change in source water regulatory requirements associated with the interim plan,” Doll said. “We take our role as protectors of public health seriously and firmly believe we earn the trust and confidence of our customers with every drop of water we deliver. We are now publicly announcing that the wells have been turned off.”

The interim plan intends to keep the affected wellfield out of service until treatment improvements are completed at the new South Plainfield facility in mid-2023, according to the press release.

Middlesex Water has completed the design of a facility for enhanced treatment to comply with new state regulations in New Jersey for PFOA. The plant, which is estimated at approximately $47 million, will use granular activated carbon, which has proved effective against PFOA and PFAS.

As part of the interim plan, Middlesex Water agreed to provide Vera’s counsel – law firms DeNittis Osefchen Prince of Marlton and Javerbaum, Wurgaft, Hicks, Kahn, Wikstrom & Sininis of Voorhees – with contemporaneous notice of the results of its regularly scheduled monitoring for PFOA.

“This is definitely a step in the right direction,” Vera’s co-counsel Stephen DeNittis stated in a press release on Dec. 17. “Hopefully these interim measures will eliminate the PFOA in the water supply affecting approximately 61,000 homes in Middlesex County. However, this does not fully resolve our lawsuit. We are still seeking Middlesex Water Company to compensate customers who have incurred the expense of paying for consultations with doctors, bottled water, water filters, or similar costs incurred as recommended by Middlesex Water Company in the PFOA violation notices it sent out to its customers. The water customers have no responsibility for the violation of PFOA water standards in their tap water, and it is not fair that these customers should have to bear such costs especially when they still are being billed and pay for their water from the company.”

Following the initial notice, municipalities held meetings with their respective residents with representatives from the water company explaining the notice of the exceedance of the PFOA drinking water standard, which officials said is a Tier 2 violation.

New Jersey is one of seven states that have enforceable regulation drinking water standards for PFOA.

Doll, at the meetings, maintained there was “no immediate threat” with the violation and the water was safe for customers to use.

PFOA is a member of the group of chemicals called 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.

With the notifications, Middlesex Water provided literature on PFOA treatment on its website as well as its notice to residents.

The notice stated people with specific health concerns, a severely compromised immune system, have an infant, are pregnant, or are elderly, may be at higher risk than other individuals and should seek advice from health care providers about drinking the water.

Doll noted at the meetings “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, the notice further stated, noting boiling water will not remove PFOA.

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, according to information provided during a presentation the water company held in Woodbridge on Oct. 25.

Middlesex Water is notifying customers of their interim plan by mail.

For more information, contact the company’s Customer Service Department at 800-549-3802 or visit www.middlesexwater.com/alerts. Also, customers can visit the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection website at www.nj.gov/dep/watersupply/pfas.

Contact Kathy Chang at kchang@newspapermediagroup.com.

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