Home > Family & kids, Hot topics, Policy watch, Politics > Drink at your own risk

Drink at your own risk

August 27th, 2008 Leave a comment Go to comments

DEP Report: Residents of over 50,000 NJ homes drinking polluted water

According to a DEP report required by the Private Well Testing Act, residents of over 50,000 NJ homes are unknowingly drinking unsafe well water, yet DEP and local health officials are ignoring the problem.

DEP estimates that there are over 400,000 private residential drinking water wells in NJ. Over 51,000 of these wells have been sampled, but 350,000 have not.

DEP data from 2002 – 2007 indicate that 12.5 % of over 51,000 residential wells that were sampled fail to meet drinking water standards and are polluted. This rate does not include more than 18% of sampled wells poisoned by toxic lead. Assuming that this large data set and 12.5% failure rate are representative of all 400,000 wells, means that more than 50,000 NJ households are drinking unsafe water.

According to a Report just released by DEP:

“A total of 55,749 well water samples were analyzed from 51,028 separate wells during the period of September 2002 to April 2007. The samples results are biased using the highest test result value when more than one sample was collected at the same property. The 51,028 wells sampled represents about 13% of the estimated 400,000 private wells used for drinking water in New Jersey. (click on link for full Report: http://www.nj.gov/dep/pwta/pwta_report_final.pdf

Here’s how the well contamination – by pollutant and county – is distributed across the State:


Primary Contaminants: Protecting Human Health

Primary Drinking Water Standards are established for contaminants that have either an immediate or long-term effect on human health. Based on the results of the 51,028 wells tested between September 2002 and April 2007, 88 percent (%) of the wells “passed” (did not exceed) all of the required primary standards for drinking water. Of the 12 % (6,369) wells that exceeded a primary drinking water standards (“failed”), the most common exceedances were for gross alpha particle activity2 (2,209 wells), arsenic (1,445 wells), nitrates (1,399 wells), fecal coliform or E. coli (1,136 wells), volatile organic compounds (VOCs) (702 wells), and mercury4 (215 wells). A summary of the primary contaminant test results is presented in Figure E1.

There are significant flaws in the DEP private well testing program that cry out for legislative and regulatory reforms. Yet while the DEP Report discloses these problems, DEP does not recommend how to fix them.

1) There is no requirement to fix pollution problems discovered:

“The Act and subsequent regulations do not require water treatment if any test parameter standard level is exceeded. However, the NJDEP does provide information regarding various treatment alternatives and potential funding sources (see http://www.nj.gov/dep/pwta). The Act is considered a “notice” of potable water quality for interested parties involved in the real estate transaction.”

2) Neighbors of polluted wells are not required to be warned

“Once the local health authority is notified electronically by NJDEP or directly by the laboratory, the health authorities may (but are not required to) notify property owners within the vicinity of the failing well. However, because these individual tests are considered confidential, the exact location of the well test failure cannot be identified.”

3) Purely Voluntary: DEP can not enforce the Private Well Testing Act

“Since no state agency has the ability to verify that all real estate transactions (sales and leases) subject to testing under the PWTA have been reported to NJDEP, the absence of results, along with errors or mistakes in the reported data, could have a significant impact on the evaluation and interpretation of the data presented.”

4) The data are unreliable

The following identifies some key issues concerning PWTA data:

A) Sample Collection and Transport – Samples collected or transported improperly often yield contaminated or questionable test results. For example, the NJDEP currently suspects that collection of lead samples from unflushed water tanks or spigots may be the primary reason why many elevated lead results are being reported.

B) Analysis and Data Reporting – The PWTA Program testing data are submitted electronically and are automatically entered into the database without any quality control or quality assurance reviews. It is assumed that the certified laboratory properly met all required protocols and the data are accurate. The PWTA Program relies on the reporting laboratory to catch and correct any data entry errors.

C) Collection of well location information – Without accurate well location information, the analytical results cannot be properly correlated to the well, thereby-hindering evaluations of the data. The new database that went on-line in the Spring of 2007 included additional quality control checks to improve location data.

5) The failure rate does NOT include MAJOR TOXIC LEAD PROBLEMS

“NJDEP considers the lead results to be questionable, and did not include them in the summary charts. The raw lead test results indicate that 5,523 wells (11%) out of the 51,028 tested had lead levels above the old ground water standard of 10 μg/l, and 9,368 (18%) wells had lead levels above the new ground water standard of 5 μg/l. Furthermore, some of the samples contained unrealistically high concentrations of lead with the highest being 20,200 μg/l. “

6) The “case study” reported in Byram Township (Sussex) is a disaster

Private Well Testing Act Case Study #2 – Byram Township, Sussex County

In the summer of 2004, a well at a house being sold in Byram Township, Sussex County was found to be contaminated with trichloroethylene above the Maximum Contaminant Level (MCL) of 1 microgram per liter (or part per billion (ppb)). The concentration detected was 29 μg/l. The public notification provisions within the PWTA regulations suggest that the local health authority notify neighboring properties within at least 200 feet whenever a drinking water standard (e.g., MCL) is exceeded. Because of the location of the affected property, no homes were located within 200 ft of the affected property, so neither the local health authority nor the State performed any subsequent sampling.

  1. ZoharLaor
    August 27th, 2008 at 15:04 | #1

    Bill, we filter our water in our house with the Brita filter (the one in the pitcher).
    Is that good enough?

  2. nohesitation
    August 27th, 2008 at 15:13 | #2

    No treatment is 100% effective.
    I’d read the label – it should say what is filtered and what is not.
    I am not an expert and hesitate to make recommendations, especially without research.
    Reverse osmosis – I think – is state of the art technology, but expensive.
    Activated carbon is fairly good.
    Also depends on source of water – if public water, the utility does some treatment.
    Call DEP or do some googling – lots of info available.

  3. sovery
    November 4th, 2008 at 22:10 | #3

    Reverse Osmosis — $200 for 5 years (ie way cheaper than bottled)

  1. May 7th, 2011 at 11:43 | #1
You must be logged in to post a comment.