Once again, the state is focusing attention on how safe New Jersey’s drinking water actually is.
Unhappy with the fact that a state agency has failed to act on more than a dozen toxic contaminants in drinking water, lawmakers yesterday approved a bill to force officials to take action on proposals to reduce levels of certain chemicals in public water supplies.
The legislation (S-2468), approved by the Senate Environment and Energy Committee, would give the Department of Environmental Protection six months to implement recommendations to establish maximum levels for 16 contaminants in drinking water.
An advisory body, the state Drinking Water Quality Institute, recommended setting standards for the toxic contaminants as far back as 2009, but the DEP has never adopted the recommendations — much to the dismay of environmentalists and some legislators.
“It’s just unacceptable,’’ said Sen. Raymond Lesniak (D-Union), the sponsor of the bill. “There’s been eight years of neglect, and I would say even malfeasance.’’
At the same meeting, the Senate panel also voted to divert $20 million from the state’s Clean Energy Fund to finance projects to help remove lead from drinking water, a problem that emerged with findings of unsafe levels of the contaminant in supplies in more than a score of Newark schools, and other districts.
The chemicals identified in Lesniak’s bill also are a growing concern among health professionals, with increasing frequency being seen in drinking water supplies, leading to the DWQI’s focus on the compounds.
The DWQI reviews scientific literature and studies to advise the DEP on establishing maximum contaminant level for potentially harmful chemicals that are found in drinking water supplies. Once limits are set, if water repeatedly exceeds the standard for the contaminant, the supplier must either close down the well or reduce pollution levels through a treatment system.
“Even small trace amounts of these chemicals can have very serious consequences,’’ said Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club.
Recent studies have heightened health concerns about contaminants found in drinking water, particularly a family of compounds known as perfluorocarbons, or PFCs. One study found that New Jersey had the second-highest level of PFCs in drinking water in the nation. Children exposed to PFCs were linked to lower immune system function.
Water systems serving more than 1 million people in New Jersey were found to exceed a guidance level for one PFC compound, perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), that had been set by the DEP, according to Doug O’Malley, director of Environment New Jersey. PFOA is used in the manufacture of nonstick cookware.