New Jersey Establishes Stringent Drinking Water Standards for Emerging Contaminants

New Jersey recently announced the nation’s first binding limits for certain perfluorinated and polyfluoroalkyl substances (“PFASs”) in drinking water, establishing stringent standards for the treatment of those emerging contaminants.

While seldom used today, PFASs were historically used in a diverse array of processes and products, including coatings for textiles, stain and grease repellants, electroplating and metal finishing, electronics, automotive, paints and adhesives, and fire-extinguishing foams.  PFASs are often found in the soil and groundwater at former manufacturing facilities, as well as sites where PFAS-containing fire-fighting foams were used or tested.

The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (“NJDEP”) adopted the New Jersey Drinking Water Quality Institute’s (“DWQI”) recommended Maximum Contaminant Levels (“MCLs”) of 14 parts-per-trillion (“ppt”) for perfluorooctanoic acid (“PFOA”) and 13 ppt for perfluorononanoic acid (“PFNA”).  New Jersey drinking water suppliers will be required to test for PFOA and PFNA and take action to avoid or address exceedances of those MCLs.  Previously, PFOA was subject to a non-binding “guidance level” level of 40 ppt, based on No Observed Adverse Effect Levels or Lowest Observed Adverse Effect Levels in experimental animals. DWQI is currently evaluating potential MCLs for other PFASs, including perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (“PFOS”).

Last year, the United State Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a Drinking Water Health Advisory for PFOA and PFOS at 70 ppt individually or in total when both compounds are found, although exceedances of those advisory levels do not trigger any binding requirements. According to data posted in 2016, PFOA, PFNA, and PFOS are detected more frequently and in higher concentrations in New Jersey water supplies than nationwide. For example, 10.2% and 2.3% of New Jersey public water systems detected PFOA and PFNA at reporting levels of 20 ppt, compared to 1.9% and 0.2% of public water systems outside the state. PFOS was detected at levels over 40 ppt in 3.4% of New Jersey systems, compared to 1.9% nationwide.

New York has added PFOA, PFOS, and related compounds to the list of hazardous substances to 6 NYCRR Part 597, setting forth registration, compliance, and handling and storage requirements.  In September 2017, Governor Cuomo announced appointees to a Drinking Water Quality Council whose first task will be to make recommendations to establish MCLs for PFOA, PFOS, and 1,4-dioxane.

For additional information about emerging drinking water contaminants, contact Christine Leas or Joyce Kung.