NRDC Advises Tougher Standards for PFAS in NJ Drinking Water

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NRDC urged New Jersey to tighten their draft regulations of PFOA and PFOS in drinking water at a public meeting hosted by the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection today. 

Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS) are two man-made chemicals that have been widely used in consumer products since the 1960s that have been linked to cancer and other serious health issues. 1.6 million of the 6 million people estimated to be exposed to dangerously high levels of PFOA and PFOS live in New Jersey—the most of any state. 

The comments NRDC submitted today are included below. 

You, too, can also speak out in favor of a strict standard that is protective of public health. New Jersey is accepting public comments on their draft regulations of PFOA and PFOS until May 31, 2019. 

Speak out in favor of clean drinking water today


Testimony of the Natural Resources Defense Council before the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection on Setting a Maximum Contaminant Level for PFOA and PFOS Chemicals

by Kimberly Ong

Good afternoon.  My name is Kimberly Ong, and I am a senior attorney at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). On behalf of the over 76,500 NRDC members and activists who live in New Jersey, thank you for taking time out of your busy schedules to hear from residents about this important issue affecting millions of New Jersey residents. 

In so many ways, New Jersey has set the bar for discussion on perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS) nationally. The New Jersey Drinking Water Quality Institute report on PFOA and PFOS, released in 2017, served as a benchmark from which other states set their own maximum contaminant levels (MCLs) for these contaminants. And up until the New York State Drinking Water Quality Council recommended regulating PFOA and PFOS at a standard of 10 parts per trillion (ppt), New Jersey’s proposed MCLs for PFOA and PFOS, at 14 and 13 ppt, respectively, would have been the toughest in the nation. But they are no longer.

In April of this year, NRDC released its own peer-reviewed assessment of the health effects of several per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), the group of chemicals of which PFOA and PFOS are a part, and developed our own recommendations around, among other things, an appropriate MCL for PFOA and PFOS.

Today, NRDC has three recommendations regarding New Jersey’s proposed MCLs:          

First, New Jersey should consider developing a combined MCL for PFOA and PFOS. These structurally similar contaminants have combined and synergistic effects on human health. It is the combined level of PFOA and PFOS in our bodies that is relevant for human health, rather than the level of each contaminant individually.

Second, in drafting its regulations, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection should set lower MCLs for PFOA and PFOS than what the Drinking Water Quality Institute recommended in their 2017 report. In April of this year, NRDC released its own peer-reviewed assessment of the health effects of several per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), the group of chemicals of which PFOA and PFOS are a part, and we recommended a combined MCL of 2 ppt. If New Jersey adopted that standard, this would be the lowest standard in the nation, beating out New York’s recommended MCL of 10 ppt. 

Our recommendation differs from the assumptions made by the Drinking Water Quality Institute in two main ways. First, we applied delayed mammary gland development as the most sensitive endpoint. While New Jersey recognized mammary gland development as the most sensitive endpoint and even calculated a reference dose based on delayed mammary gland development, it did not apply this endpoint to calculate the MCL, and instead applied a reference dose for increased liver weight. This was a mistake. Delayed mammary gland development can lead to a number of health effects, including difficulty in breastfeeding and an increase in susceptibility to breast cancer later in life. Indeed, if the reference dose for mammary gland development had been used, New Jersey’s MCL for PFOA would be less than one ppt. 

NRDC’s risk assessment also differs from New Jersey in another way: NRDC’s drinking water exposure parameters were designed to account for the most vulnerable consumers of drinking water—infants. The New Jersey Drinking Water Quality Institute simply applied the default drinking water exposure parameters for adults, which is not an accurate accounting of which populations are most vulnerable to PFOA and PFOS exposure in drinking water. Infants are more likely to be exposed than adults to these contaminants because they ingest more water per pound of body weight than adults, so it is important to account for that in setting New Jersey’s MCL. The differences between New Jersey’s and NRDC’s risk assessments are explained in more detail in our April 2019 assessment of PFAS in drinking water.

Finally, we ask that once New Jersey finalizes its regulations for PFOA and PFOS, that it look to regulating PFAS as a class, since manufactures have already begun substituting PFOA and PFOS with structurally similar chemicals with similar health effects. If we neglect regulating the entire PFAS class, New Jersey residents risk experiencing the same health effects from very similar chemicals.

The evidence has become clear that PFAS are our new PCBs—but they appear to be more widespread and dangerous. Unfortunately, the Environmental Protection Agency and other federal authorities have failed to protect us. New Jersey must step up to fix the problem and set a combined MCL of 2 ppt for PFOA and PFOS.

Thank you.

About the Authors

Kimberly Ong

Senior Attorney, NY Regional, Healthy People & Thriving Communities Program

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