Eileen Murphy, Ph.D

The New Jersey State Legislature is poised to become a national leader in fighting the toxic legacy of so-called timeless chemicals that threaten the health and safety of families across the state. It’s time for our lawmakers to take action.

These substances have a history in New Jersey, and despite the widespread contamination of the state’s drinking water systems, perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS)—the perennial chemicals—continue to be added to the production of many common consumer products. A robust package of bills has been introduced in the New Jersey State Legislature that, if passed, could address the PFAS contamination of New Jersey’s waters, as well as phase out the use of PFAS in many manufacturing processes.

PFAS are a family of man-made chemicals that are known as the forever chemicals because they repel water, oil and grease and are resistant to heat and chemical reactions, preventing them from breaking down. Their legacy in New Jersey dates back to the early 2000s when they were discovered in the Delaware River. Since then, PFAS has come to define one of the greatest threats to drinking water, air, and soil quality for both wildlife and humans in the Delaware River watershed. New Jersey currently regulates some PFASs in drinking water, perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS), and perfluoroanonoic acid (PFNA), but with more than 12,000 PFASs, other steps are needed to protect New Jersey’s drinking water and around the world. watershed.

The solution must be multi-pronged: regulating PFAS as a class of “emerging pollutants,” limiting continued production of PFAS, and reporting when PFAS contamination has reached a maximum contaminant level (MCL).

Action time

A group of state legislators willing to take the first step in a multifaceted approach, codifying limits on future PFAS production while protecting public water systems, has emerged to address the problem of PFAS contamination in our waters. A package of five bills introduced by Sen. Bob Smith (D-17) and Assistant Majority Leader Sen. Linda Greenstein (D-14) is poised to address PFAS contamination in New Jersey waters in several ways.

Perhaps the most significant of these bills is C-3177/A-4758. Recognizing that the chemicals do not break down or disappear, this legislation prohibits the intentional addition of PFAS to many products manufactured and sold in New Jersey. Instead of continuing to deal with PFAS after they have entered New Jersey’s soil, air and water, the state will regulate the addition of PFAS to everyday consumer products such as cosmetics, fabrics and food. If the state requires permitting and reporting for all products containing added PFASs, not only will chemical contamination from certain sources be permanently stopped, but the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) will be better prepared to address potential PFAS contamination from manufacturing .

This package also includes bills that create new requirements for public water systems, protecting New Jersey residents from the threat of PFAS-contaminated drinking water. one bill C-3179/A-4759, would require these water systems to notify their customers when they exceed the PFAS MCL. Although this testing is now reported to the NJDEP and posted online, many customers may not be aware of the contaminated condition of their drinking water due to a lack of direct reporting. In connection with this legislation, another bill was adopted, C-3180/A-4762 which requires preparing water systems for potential overcontamination by identifying alternative customer water supplies if the system exceeds the PFAS MCL.

final accounts, C-3176 / A-4760 and C-3178 /A4761 the package is beginning to consider the need for broader regulation of PFAS as a class of chemicals rather than the current chemical method of regulation. New Jersey’s Drinking Water Protection Rule has over twelve thousand different PFAS identified and only two are currently regulated. Drinking water regulations are struggling to keep up with the number of different PFASs that threaten water quality. Regulating PFAS as a class of chemicals will be the new format for PFAS regulation in New Jersey, allowing DEP to treat all detected PFAS as drinking water contaminants. This package of bills includes legislation that would require state agencies to study the regulation and treatment of PFASs to evaluate the feasibility of establishing MCLs for PFASs as a class, and a bill that would require NJDEP to annually evaluate unregulated PFASs, recommending specific MCLs for chemical substances.

The full package of bills is currently at the committee stage legislative process in each House of the State L:egislature. In the new year, our elected officials will have the opportunity to take a historic step toward protecting New Jersey’s drinking water from the perennial chemicals that threaten it most. The legacy of PFAS in New Jersey is disappointing, but this package of bills, along with the willingness of our legislators to act against the clear threat of these perennial chemicals, gives New Jersey an opportunity to be a leader in the fight against PFAS.

The need for action is clear, and the Legislature has taken the first step by limiting PFAS contamination at the source, managing PFAS contamination levels in public water systems, and developing remediation technologies to permanently remove PFAS from contaminated sites. We urge state legislators to pass this robust package of PFAS bills and protect the drinking water that millions of New Jersey residents rely on.

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