South Orange officials are awaiting receipt of containers from a California-based company to test PFOA levels at six sites within the town’s water system.
When the township has the results of those tests, a public meeting will be held with a representative of the New Jersey State Department of Environmental Protection in attendance to answer questions.
South Orange Village Trustee Walter Clarke provided these and other updates at Monday’s meeting of the Village Board of Trustees. “We will then have the same independent company that tests for VOCs for us collect the samples,” Clarke wrote in a followup email. “We think the standard turnaround time is 2-3 weeks,” but Clarke said he expects that the turnaround may be longer as there are “many other towns in several states also dealing with this issue who must be lined up at this one facility.”
Clarke and other South Orange officials echoed information distributed in January when the township issued a press release explaining that a specific chemical, PFOA (which is in the family of PFCs), was found in levels exceeding the NJ Department of Environmental Protection’s guidelines in Well 17. PFOA is a “likely carcinogen,” according to the federal Environmental Protection Agency.
The water well test yielded a result of 58 ppt (parts per trillion) — significantly below the Federal EPA Public Health Advisory level of 400 ppt which is for short term exposure (defined as weeks to months) but did exceed the NJ DEP guideline amount of 40 ppt which is for chronic or lifetime exposure which is defined as 70 years.
The South Orange release explained that, since the well water is 10% of the supply and is mixed with other water, levels in residents’ water should be well below the federal guidelines.
In response to a public comment on Monday night asking that the town make a chart of where water was flowing and mixing within the system as it related to Well 17, Trustee Clarke said that the township did “have our water consultants attempting to make that water flow example.” However, Clarke said it was “easier said than done” as many variables affected flow, such as who was turning taps on or off around town at any given time.
Clarke said that the town’s vision was as follows: “Our hope is that we can get the water back to where it is safe to consume.” (As in the initial release, officials repeatedly stated during Monday’s meeting that the rates from Well 17 were considered hazardous only if the water was consumed over a 70 year period.)
Clarke added that PFOA is not a regulated chemical. “Right now, it is sort of a suggestion by the state and the feds,” said Clarke. He also noted, “basically pure water doesn’t exist outside of a lab and that includes pristine mountain streams.” Clarke added, “In terms of strategies, right now, our first step is to get a bead on how widespread [PFOAs are] and what the concentrations are.”
Village Counsel Steve Rother said that “as the EPA and DEP begin to deal with PFCs we will get better info on how to deal with it.” He added that the town was in the process of obtaining a new water source — New Jersey American Water as of Jan. 1, 2017 — and a new operator. “We are on the cutting edge of this,” said Rother. “We will be willing to do what is needed going forward.
In response to a question about filtration, Clarke noted that typical residential water filters did not work on PFCs and PFOA and asked residents for their help in researching filters and coming up with suggestions. Later, Clarke noted that PFCs were different than VOCs which could be removed from the system by “air strippers.” (An air stripper was, in fact, installed for Well 17 many years ago.)
Clarke told residents that there were no plans to take Well 17 out of the system for now or even after the new water system comes online in 2017. He noted that the well must function in order to keep the aquifer from flooding basements in the neighborhood. “We want to do whatever we have to do in terms of filtration or dilution to keep it functional,” said Clarke, who added that “only as a last resort” would the town take Well 17 off line and “pump its water out.”
Trustee Howard Levison said that the town was still working to “find out what this chemical is all about.” He reiterated that “the level of concentration is very, very low … becoming a problem only if you drank it for 70 years.” Levison added, “Not that we aren’t concerned. We are concerned.” Levison noted that South Orange was also working very closely with the NJDEP and even was a part of a federal conversation on the chemical, with officials attending a meeting in Washington, D.C. in recent days.
Officials noted that information on the water situation would be continually updates at southorange.org.