NJ is number 2 state in U.S. for certain contaminants in drinking water, ABC analysis finds

At least 43% of U.S. zip codes have at least one water source where PFAS was detected over the past 20 years

Kristin Thorne Image
Tuesday, May 23, 2023
NJ is number 2 state in nation for PFAS in drinking water
PFAS are believed to cause health problems, and New Jersey is the number 2 state in the country for the rate of PFAS in drinking water.

NEW JERSEY (WABC) -- An analysis done by a team of data journalists at ABC found that New Jersey is the top two state in the country for contamination of its drinking water with man-made chemicals known as PFAS, or per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances.

PFAS are industrial-grade chemicals used in the production of a myriad of daily products, including makeup, medical supplies and pizza boxes. They are believed to cause health problems, including reproductive effects, increased risk of some cancers, including prostate, kidney and testicular, and reduced ability of the body's immune system to fight infections.

In 2018, New Jersey became the first state in the nation to propose an enforceable drinking water standard for PFAS forcing municipalities to start monitoring for PFAS in their water supply.

Veolia, a company that provides water to 1.6 million residents and businesses in New Jersey, said it has invested $34 million in PFAS filtration systems at 15 sites in the state where high levels of PFAS have been detected, including in the Highlands, Franklin Lakes and Allendale.

"We're here to protect public health and we're doing it proactively," Alan Weland, vice president and general manager of Veolia, said.

Weland showed Eyewitness News Investigative Reporter Kristin Thorne the company's newest PFAS filtration system in Franklin Lakes.

Weland said the wells around the area had shown high levels of PFAS and were taken offline until a treatment facility could be constructed.

He also said the $6 million system will filter 1.6 million gallons of water every day. The water will pass through a filter to which the PFAS are attracted.

"One of the things that made PFAS such valuable industrial chemicals is that they're heat-resistant, stain-resistant, fire-resistant, water-resistant," said Carol Walczyk, vice president at Veolia. "You'll find it on anything that's stain-proofed, water-proofed."

The analysis done by ABC News, using federal and state environmental agencies' databases, found that 43% of U.S. zip codes have had at least one water source where PFAS contamination was detected over the past 20 years.

The Environmental Protection Agency is expected to issue strict standards for certain PFAS chemicals in drinking water soon.

"Every person should have access to clean and safe drinking water," Eric Burneson with the EPA said in a recent webinar regarding the proposed regulations. "That's why the EPA's acting now to protect people's drinking water from PFAS contamination."

The proposed regulations will require municipalities to test for PFAS and, if detected, municipalities will have to install multi-million dollar PFAS filtration systems, which will inevitably cause water rate hikes for many customers. Some water providers and municipalities in New Jersey, including in Hawthorne, have already announced an increase in water rates due the need to install PFAS filtration systems.

Burneson said the bipartisan Infrastructure Law provides $9 billion to invest in drinking water systems impacted by PFAS. The EPA is expected to issue a ruling on the proposed PFAS regulations in the coming months.

According to the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, under the proposed EPA rules, a significant number of New Jersey water systems would exceed the proposed MCLs (maximum contaminant levels)."

You can check the water quality in your area of New Jersey here.

To learn more about the fight against PFAS in the drinking water across the country, watch Our America: Trouble on Tap - a three-part docuseries produced by ABC News and National Geographic.


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