Article courtesy of Angelo Fichera | January 5, 2014 | Philly.com | Shared as educational material
When Paulsboro reached a settlement in December with the plastics company it had sued nearly a year before over a tainted water well, it marked a win for a scrappy industrial town familiar with environmental woes.
The agreement, valued at more than $2 million, stipulates that Solvay Specialty Polymers will install a sophisticated filtration system on the contaminated well.
Although the settlement signaled a hopeful end to Paulsboro’s most recent health scare, it also raised questions about how several neighboring towns in Gloucester County would address the issue.
West Deptford, Greenwich, East Greenwich, and Woodbury also have wells deactivated because of elevated levels of perfluorononanoic acid (PFNA), a type of perfluorinated chemical (PFC).
Solvay has denied culpability. It has said it stopped using PFCs voluntarily in 2010.
PFNA is not regulated by state or federal governments, but the N.J. Department of Environmental Protection is reviewing possible standards. The chemical, used to make some materials water- and grease-resistant, has not been the subject of extensive studies. A sibling chemical, perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), was determined by a scientific panel to have “probable links” to kidney cancer and thyroid disease.
In 2014, PFNA contamination prompted several lawsuits filed by residents. The state DEP installed filtration systems on 11 private wells in West Deptford and announced it would test additional private wells. And the federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry agreed to investigate the chemical’s presence in the area.
Now, at least one municipality – Greenwich Township – is moving toward buying its own filtration systems. The township plans to request bids this month for installation of granular activated carbon filtration systems for its two water-treatment plants.
The DEP has provided temporary approval of the installations, department spokesman Bob Considine said in an e-mail, adding, “No other system has approached us with PFC treatment at this time.”
Greenwich plans to issue a bond to pay for the two treatment systems, Mayor George W. Shivery Jr. said, but it will try to recoup the cost, possibly through legal proceedings or state aid. He would not discuss specifics of either.
“If we get into a lawsuit battle, it could take God knows how long,” Shivery said. “We’re not prepared to wait that long to clean up our water supply.”
He would not say how much the systems were expected to cost, citing the bidding process, except to say: “It’s not cheap.”
Shivery hopes the systems will be ready by summer.
Although it’s not clear how Woodbury, West Deptford, or East Greenwich will proceed, officials in those towns say they won’t put their affected wells back into use until the contamination is remedied.
“We will not put that well back online until the [PFNA levels] come down or until we have a mechanism for treating the water,” Woodbury Administrator Michael Theokas said. “The council has been made aware throughout the entire process, and they are considering any and all options to make this right for the citizens.”
West Deptford Administrator Brandon Umba said his town was committed to getting its well back online, but how wasn’t yet clear.
East Greenwich Mayor Dale Archer said his town had maintained an open dialogue with Solvay, which is monitoring PFNA levels at the affected well.
Archer said that during the summer, East Greenwich had to buy more water from New Jersey American Water because its Well No. 3 was offline. He did not have available costs for the additional water.
“We will be trying to recoup some of those losses,” he said. “All factors will be taken into consideration with the new committee in 2015.”
Solvay spokesman David Klucsik said the company would address each municipal well on a case-by-case basis.
“We’ll do that based on scientific data that’s available on those locations,” he said.
Solvay has paid for many tests of PFCs in water supplies in the area. It also has provided bottled water to Paulsboro residents and to owners of private wells.
“The source of PFCs, including PFNA, detected in groundwater in Paulsboro has not been determined,” Solvay said after settling with Paulsboro. “Solvay’s actions reflect its desire to assist in the response to concerns raised by the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection in a community in which many of our employees live.”
Paulsboro’s Well No. 7, which had the highest PFNA readings among municipal wells – up to 150 parts per trillion – remained in use until April because two other wells were offline to fix a system to remove radium, a regulated contaminant. That coincided with a DEP advisory saying parents in the borough should not to use tap water to feed children 1 year old and younger. The DEP lifted that advisory in October.