Source: https://www.delawareonline.com, March 25, 2019
By Scott Fallon and Karl Baker
New Jersey environmental regulators have ordered Delaware chemical companies and others responsible for widespread contamination of drinking water systems to spend millions of dollars to assess the extent of the pollution in the state and eventually clean it up.
The directive from the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection –which targets 3M, DowDuPont, Chemours and Solvay – is the latest costly offensive against a family of substances that for decades has buttressed the profits of the country’s biggest chemicals companies.
At issue are the manmade family of substances, called PFAS, which have been produced at facilities across the country, including at the Chambers Works factory, near Penns Grove, New Jersey.
The PFAS family includes the Teflon chemical, PFOA, as well as its replacement, GenX.
PFOA can cause kidney and testicular cancers, thyroid disease, hypertension and other illnesses, according to regulators. The health effects of GenX is less known, though it has been linked to cancer in laboratory animals.
“DuPont has discharged PFOA as well as other PFAS from Chambers Works for decades, which has contaminated the site and the surrounding area,” the New Jersey DEP stated.
DuPont phased out its use of PFOA a decade ago, replacing it with GenX. In 2015, it spun off its fluoroproducts operations and some of those potential liabilities to a new company, called Chemours.
New concerns over the safety of GenX arose shortly after, particularly in North Carolina where the chemical was found in a river that provides drinking water to about 200,000 people.
A DuPont spokesman on Monday said the company had just received the notice from New Jersey and “is currently reviewing it.”
“We engage with NJDEP on a regular basis regarding operations at our New Jersey facilities, and will work with them to better understand the directive,” he said.
In a similar statement, a Chemours spokesman said, “Chemours has just received this communication from the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection and is in the process of reviewing it.”
Asked in late 2017 if liabilities connected to its legacy Teflon product could derail its future, Chemours Chief Executive Officer Mark Vergnano said, “at this point, no.”
“We’re taking all of these all very seriously,” he said.
Asked about the toxicity of GenX, he said “we don’t believe there’s any health issue.”
In New Jersey, nearly one in five residents are delivered tap water that contains at least trace amounts of one PFAS chemical.
Among the products containing the chemicals are nonstick pans, polishes, waxes, paints, cleaning products, and fire-fighting foams. Brand names that contain the chemicals include Stainmaster, Scotchgard, Teflon and Gore-Tex.
The chemicals have contaminated drinking water systems throughout the nation, including in New Castle, Blades and near Dover.
The New Jersey directive issued Monday is the first step toward compelling the companies to pay for what is anticipated to be a large-scale cleanup.
It requires the companies to provide information on the discharge of PFAS through wastewater treatment plants, air emissions and sales of products containing the chemicals.
The directive offers no estimate for the cost of a cleanup. The only mention of money is $3.1 million that the DEP wants Solvay to pay for the department’s past efforts to investigate and clean up the chemicals at several sites in Gloucester and Salem counties.
Testing required by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency from 2013 to 2016 showed that about 16 million Americans were being served water where PFOA had been detected, according to an analysis by the Environmental Working Group. Of those, 1.6 million were in New Jersey — the most of any single state.
Among those water customers are 61,700 people in four towns served by Ridgewood Water, where 44 of its 52 municipal supply wells are contaminated.
Ridgewood Water filed a lawsuit last month against 3M, DuPont, Chemours, Honeywell International and other companies alleging they “knew or should have known” that their chemical firefighting products were soluble and “very likely to contaminate surface and groundwater,” posing health risks.