Filter the Chemical Soup in New Jersey’s Drinking Water
Available Treatments Could Screen Hundreds of Unregulated Compounds from Taps
Trenton — New Jersey should filter its drinking water to remove hundreds of chemicals, most of which are unregulated, from its drinking water supply, according to a rulemaking petition filed today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). The plan to screen many chemicals out of tap water was actually developed by the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) but has been in limbo for the last six years.
State testing has detected “approximately 600” chemical compounds “in 199 samples collected” including five brands of bottled water, according to a recent DEP white paper. The vast majority of these chemicals, including pharmaceuticals, hormones, and cleaning products, are not regulated by either the federal or state government. As a result, there is no regulatory effort to reduce or eliminate them from drinking water.
The April 2010 DEP white paper, entitled “Investigations Related to a ‘Treatment-Based’ Regulatory Approach to Address Unregulated Contaminants in Drinking Water,” advocates used granular activated carbon filtration and other techniques to remove most chemicals in drinking water, noting that carbon filtration alone removed more than half of identified chemicals.
“Pre-treatment of drinking water is not a panacea but would be a major step forward,” stated New Jersey PEER Director Bill Wolfe, a former DEP analyst, noting that no single technique or combination of techniques will filter all chemicals out of drinking water. “The alternative is having the public serve as a chemical sponge for hundreds of unregulated compounds coming out of our spigots every day.”
DEP has already paid for two carbon filtration system for groundwater. Operating costs are fractions of a penny per gallon treated. Treatment is also a key drinking water strategy being explored by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, headed by Lisa Jackson, a former DEP Commissioner.
On February 2, 2004, DEP proposed to move forward on “installation of treatment technology to reduce levels of organic contaminants” among other drinking water quality strategies. After public comment, the plan languished and was never implemented. The DEP white paper was presented at the May 7th state Drinking Water Quality Institute meeting and will be discussed at its upcoming September 10th meeting.
Meanwhile, under Governor Chris Christie, DEP has backed away from a slew of proposed drinking water quality standards tied to public health concerns on chemicals ranging from perchlorate to formaldehyde to benzene and vinyl chloride. The Christie administration has yet to articulate a drinking water strategy.
“Protecting our drinking water should be on the agenda of the Christie administration but has yet to make an appearance,” added Wolfe. “Treatment technologies would help but are not a replacement for ensuring that harmful chemicals do not enter our waters in the first place.”
New Jersey PEER is a state chapter of a national alliance of state and federal agency resource professionals working to ensure environmental ethics and government accountability