Source: https://patch.com, May 9, 2019
By: Anthony Bellano
One of the Aqua America water plants in Gloucester Township is contaminated with toxic chemicals, according to a new report.
Researchers at the Environmental Working Group (EWG), an activist nonprofit group, listed the Blackwood plant as among 43 in New Jersey and at least 610 sites nationwide that have been contaminated with perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances, known collectively as PFAS. That’s up from the 172 the organization had identified in July 2018. A total of 19 million people have had their water source affected.
Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), also known as C8, has been detected in the water at the plant, according to the EWG’s Drinking Water Database. PFOA is a manmade chemical used to make teflon.
EWG is calling on the EPA to establish what it calls a “truly health-protective legal limit” for all PFAS chemicals, but the possibility of that happening anytime soon remains murky.
There are also Aqua America plants in the Laurel Springs, Sicklerville and Clementon areas of Gloucester Township, but none of them were listed as among those that have been contaminated.
PFOA can be a significant health concern because it can stay in the environment and the human body for a long time, according to the American Cancer Society. It is present in just about everyone’s blood at low levels, but it has been found in higher levels in the blood of people who live near contaminated sites.
Studies have linked an increase in testicular cancer with exposure to PFOA, according to the report. There may be links to thyroid and kidney cancer, but studies conducted have found small increases in risk that may be due to chance. There may be links to prostate, bladder and ovarian cancer, but more study needs to be done to verify those links.
Both PFOA and PFOS have been phased out of production in America, but PFAS can seep into soil, water and air, and take thousands of years to break down. They remain in the environment and can even “build up in people and animals with repeated exposure over time,” federal health officials said.
PFAS have long been a concern in New Jersey, and it’s a concern that’s brought state and federal attention to a number of counties.
The state Department of Environmental Protection has identified five companies it says are responsible for the “extensive contamination” and directing them to fund millions of dollars in assessment and cleanup efforts, Commissioner Catherine R. McCabe recently announced.
So should you worry? Lawmakers on Capitol Hill have called the presence of the chemicals in drinking water supplies a widespread public health crisis, and states and local communities are calling on the Environmental Protection Agency to set legally allowable limits — which currently don’t exist — for the substances.
The new sites, discovered using different data sources, include public water systems, military bases, airports, industrial plants, dumps and firefighter training sites, EWG said.
PFAS are man-made chemicals found in industry and consumer products across the globe dating to the 1950s. They were used in nonstick cookware, water-repellent clothing and stain resistant fabrics and carpets, as well as certain cosmetics and firefighting foams. Additionally, PFAS were found in products that resist grease, water and oil, the group said.
PFAS contamination is a public health concern that federal and state health officials are interested in studying further, according to the federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. The agency cited studies linking PFAS contamination to liver problems, low birth weight, some cancers and other health issues.
While more research is needed to determine just how toxic the chemicals are to humans and animals, the “forever chemical,” as it’s often called, has lawmakers on both sides of the aisle concerned.
Republican Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania, co-chairman of a congressional PFAS task force, has called PFAS “one of the most widespread public health crises” that Americans face today. Democratic Rep. Dan Kildee of Michigan has said veterans and their families have become increasingly alarmed about the chemical around bases.
“The Defense Department in particular has so far failed to act with the required urgency to address this growing problem,” he said earlier this year.
Phil Brown, a professor of sociology and health sciences at Northeastern University and director of the Social Science Environmental Health Research Institute, said the EWG’s updated map shows PFAS contamination is “truly a nationwide problem.”
“Leaders in many communities and states are doing great work to raise awareness about PFAS and push for cleanup, but this is a national crisis demanding national action,” said Brown.
The map shows contamination at 117 military sites.
More than 190 sites were contaminated in Michigan — a reflection of the state’s robust testing program — while 47 sites were contaminated in California.