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Radioactive Risks From NJ Drinking Water Go Un-Regulated

Increased Health Risks and Chronic DEP Failure To Enact Protections cries out for media, citizen and legislative intervention

[Update: 7/27/10 – Joe Tyrrel of NJNewsroom writes a good story “Radioactivity rampant in New Jersey well water” – I can’t believe that DEP chose to point out the cost benefit analysis- I guess the Christie people have no moral qualms with trading off hundreds of lives lost in horrible cancer deaths for a few pennies a day:

DEP spokesman Larry Hajna rejected the suggestion that the agency has been sitting on the information. The report was part of an ongoing process, with information posted on the DEP website, while the private well data results from a state law, he said.

“We definitely know there’s a problem,” he said. “We’re developing this information and working to protect the public.”

He pointed to the report’s cost-benefit analyses for various levels of stringency. The 800 picocurie standard would cost an estimated $404,103 per life saved.

[7/26/10 correction: I shouldn’t have said DEP has done nothing. You see, they had the balls to fine Pemberton $4,500 for failing to provide timely notification to DEP for one well- while at the same time DEP does not disclose and covers up a statewide problem impacting thousands of wells used by over 1 million NJ residents.

And way back in 2004, under real leadership, DEP did try to get the word out – but take a look at this DEP Guidance and note by how much current data exceeds the risks then presented. Risk are FAR greater.

And its been no secret among experts for a long time – see this 1998 USGS study – but what explains the low news coverage? Compare the sparse news coverage these significant risks with the massive media coverage of the nuke plant tritium leaks]

(Intro Note to readers: aside from criticisms of the annual DEP Private Well Testing Act Reports (and see this ), we have not done a lot of work on the drinking water program. But we decided to take a closer look at DEP’s drinking water program because the Christie Administration decided to attack drinking water regulations in Executive Order #2. We do not like what we see. We also note that environmental activist Dave Pringle of NJEF is no longer the Chair of the Health Effects Committee of the Drinking Water Quality Institute, so a voice for the public interest from the inside has been lost, thus heightening the need for outside public scrutiny. The DWQI Chair resigned, members have not been appointed, and the DWQI is in disarray. This is occurring as science finds increasing risks from hundreds of unregulated toxic pollutants in the water supply, toxic sites are not cleaned up, infrastructure deficits grow, and over-development continues to pollute even more NJ water supply waters).

It is fair to say that NJ’s drinking water program is broken and in need of outside intervention, having proven incapable of responding to chronic problems and increasing public health risks.

In March, we disclosed the fact that DEP Commissioner Martin killed a proposed new drinking water standard for perchlorate (see: CHRISTIE DEEP-SIXES NEW JERSEY PERCHLORATE STANDARD – Red Tape Review Runs Out Clock on Rocket Fuel in Drinking Water Limit)

We later exposed documents that proved that Martin’s explanation for why he killed the perchlorate standard was false (see: RATIONALE FOR NEW JERSEY WATER QUALITY DELAY IS BOGUS  Commissioner Claim of Imminent EPA Perchlorate Action Contradicted by E-Mails

Exposing even greater risks that were being ignored by DEP, in May, we disclosed that DEP had failed to update and lower many standards recommended by scientists:

TIGHTER NEW JERSEY DRINKING WATER STANDARDS IN OBLIVION Drinking Water Institute Chair Resigns in Frustration; Successor to be Announced

Trenton – A five-year effort to update limits on more than 30 contaminants commonly found in New Jersey’s drinking water appears to be doomed by the anti-regulatory stance of the Christie administration, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). As a result, New Jersey residents will continue to be exposed to chemicals ranging from benzene to formaldehyde in amounts that its expert Drinking Water Quality Institute (DWQI) has found unsafe. (link to full report)

We now report that DEP is not warning the public about risks, setting standards, and mandating treatment systems be installed for some radioactive contaminants known to be present at unsafe levels in thousands of NJ wells.

Just like perchlorate and more than a dozen other toxic chemicals, more than a year and a half later, DEP still has not acted on a February 2009 recommendation by the NJ Drink Water Quality Institute that DEP adopt a standard for radon 222.

DEP is aware of risks associated with uranium and ineffective treatments systems homeowners may be relying on, yet have not provided warnings or regulations to reduce these risks.

Below is some prior coverage we generated previously. But despite these exposes, nothing has changed at DEP – in fact, the problems at DEP have gotten worse and the risk to the public have increased. This is an unacceptable situation that cries out for media, citizen and legislative, intervention to demand reforms:

[7/26/10 correction: I shouldn’t have said DEP has done nothing. You see, they had the balls to fine Pemberton $4,500 for failing to provide timely notification to DEP for one well- while at the same time DEP does not disclose and cover up a statewide problem impacting thousands of wells used by over 1 million NJ residents]

N.J. finds many private wells contaminated

Contaminants found in 300 Morris wells
NJ study finds 1 in 8 private wells contaminated


State: 1 in 8 private wells contaminated
Officials urge more testing
The story has gained national attention also. See:
Radioactivity, Arsenic Contaminate New Jersey Drinking Water

Drink at your own risk
Posted by Bill Wolfe August 27, 2008 1:21PM

I followed that NJ Voices post up with a widely distributed press release yesterday:
WIDESPREAD CONTAMINATION FOUND IN NEW JERSEY DRINKING WATER – Survey of Wells Is Far From Well; State Does Not Follow-Up on Pollutants

See below press release with links to supporting documents.

Press Release

For Immediate Release: Monday, July 26, 2010

Contact: Bill Wolfe (609) 397-4861; Kirsten Stade (202) 265-7337

Radioactive Wells Pose Bigger Risks in New jersey

Hundreds of Thousands Exposed Daily to Rad Levels Many Times over Safety Limits

Trenton – Radioactivity levels in state drinking water wells are much higher than previously known and at-risk wells cover a bigger slice of the Garden State, according to agency documents released today byPublic Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). Despite significant adverse public health implications of the findings, the state has not taken steps to alert or protect affected populations.

Naturally occurring radiation has long been a known presence in New Jersey’s well water. But, according to new scientific findings presented at the May 7, 2010 meeting of the state Drinking Water Quality Institute (DWQI), the extent and depth of radioactivity levels are grounds for renewed concern:

  • Official Private Well Testing Act data show that 10.7% of wells in the coastal plain violate the drinking water Maximum Contaminant Level (MCL) for gross alpha (i.e., radiological contaminants). Levels in excess of 30 times the MCL have been reported;
  • Additional health risks in Northern New Jersey due to uranium are now being discovered; and
  • The treatment system for gross alpha from radium is NOT effective in treating risk for uranium. Thus, homeowners who install certain treatment systems incorrectly think they are protected, when they are not protected if uranium is the source of radiation in their well water.

A February 2009 DWQI report estimated that more than 211,000 people are exposed to an individual cancer risk which is 600 times the acceptable risk level. DWQI recommended that the state adopt a drinking water MCL for radon 222 but it was not acted upon and no follow-up action is scheduled.

“The state should not be sitting on this information.  Officials need to warn affected homeowners now that they may need treatment systems or that they have the wrong systems,” stated New Jersey PEER Director Bill Wolfe, noting 13 other key drinking water protections recommended at the May 7th DWQI meeting were also orphaned by the Christie administration.  “This is yet another instance where supposed regulatory reform becomes regulatory retreat, leaving the public unprotected from dangers that the government is supposed to address.”

Under state law individual homeowners are notified about their well contamination readings only upon sale of the property, otherwise individual well data is confidential.  In addition, there is only routine regional testing for gross alpha in the 12 southern and central New Jersey counties.  In order to track gross alpha from uranium decay, which is being detected in northern counties, new regulations are required.

“Homeowners should not require lead suits to go to their wells,” Wolfe added.  “The state needs to take affirmative steps to change laws and rules so that excess radiation is no longer an accepted side effect in our drinking water.”


View the DWQI PowerPoint presentation

Read the Radon 222 report

See pollution pattern in New Jersey drinking water wells

Look at the breakdown of water quality standard-setting in New Jersey

New Jersey PEER is a state chapter of a national alliance of state and federal agency resource professionals working to ensure environmental ethics and government accountability

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