Home > Uncategorized > DEP Shocked – Just Shocked! – That Hammonton Water is Radioactive

DEP Shocked – Just Shocked! – That Hammonton Water is Radioactive

Shocked, just shocked, by radioactive drinking water!

Shocked, just shocked, by radioactive drinking water!

According to DEP’s own data, 38% of residential drinking water wells in Hammonton Township (Atlantic County) exceed radioactive drinking water standards (from 2002 -2007). That is one of the highest exceedence rates in the State.

The radiological standard in question (5 picocuries per liter) is based on US EPA’s 1 in 10,000 cancer risk level, a far laxer standard which is 100 TIMES less protective than NJ’s Safe Drinking Water Act’s legally mandated risk level of 1 in a million.

The magnitude and widespread extent of these risks in the Coastal plain led DEP to issue a warning back in 2004 to residents of not only Hammonton, but all of South Jersey (see: “A South Jersey Homeowners Guide to Radioactivity in Drinking Water).

Yet, how many Hammonton residents and local officials still are not aware of the data and the 2004 DEP Guidance?

And after all this time, why is DEP – doing their best Claude Raines act – now spinning the Atlantic City Press by implying that radioactive drinking water in Hammonton is some new discovery?

Yesterday (Friday), the AC Press wrote a story: Department of Environmental Protection investigating elevated amounts of radium in Hammonton water supply

HAMMONTON – The Department of Environmental Protection is investigating excessive levels of a radioactive element found in the public drinking-water supply for more than a year.

The DEP launched an investigation several weeks ago after it found concentrations of radium above state and federal standards for safety at a municipal treatment plant. …

But it is not yet clear why the state did not know about the levels of radium until recently, and whether Hammonton knew about the contamination and should have notified residents.

After reading this story yesterday, I reached out to the reporter to brief him on the long known about data in Hammonton and the many flaws we have written about in DEP drinking water program that are illustrated by this Hammonton experience – particularly failure to warn and protect the public.

We warned exactly about this just last July:

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 by Public 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;

The reporter told me he was writing a followup story today.

But, the story today ignored all of the information I provided and instead of writing a followup story, the reporter merely updated his Friday story.

The update basically rewrites the entire original story in significant ways. This “update” stuff is a non-transparent – borderline Orwellian – and questionable journalistic practice.

Readers can compare the Friday story with the Saturday update and see for themselves.

Today’s update not only ignores the data and analysis I provided, but it includes lots of new information that tends to downplay the risks and absolve both local officials and DEP from fully warranted criticism.

Even the story headline was changed to emphasize a misleading claim that current levels are “safe”. To the contrary: 1) there is no “safe” exposure to radiation; 2) there is no radioactive exposure threshold for cancer; and 3) the standard is set at an unacceptably high cancer risk level.

For example, the update parrots DEP spin. The radiological risks are now described as “an infinitesimal measure of radioactivity” and compared to risk of smoking a cigarette or getting a suntan (that sham comparison reminds me of the famous Ronald Reagan quip that trees cause air pollution).

The reporter ran that risk comparison by me on the phone. I specifially warned him that those kind of comparisons were misleading and not appropriate, if only because smoking and suntans are voluntarily assumed risks.

But drinking water is essential and risk are imposed, not voluntarily assumed, because consumers are unaware of radioactive risks.

The Hammonton situation raises significant issues of statewide importance. We have written about the them and the failures of DEP drinking water standards, monitoring and enforcement of those standards, and failure to warn the public about known risks and to provide guidance on how to take steps to reduce risks and install treatment systems.

Back in August 2008, we reviewed DEP Private Well Testing Act data and wrote Drink at your own risk, which found:

  • There is no requirement to fix pollution problems discovered
  • Neighbors of polluted wells are not required to be warned
  • The program is voluntary: DEP can not enforce the Private Well Testing Act
  • The data are unreliable
  • The failure rates are artificially low because they do NOT include TOXIC LEAD PROBLEMS

In addition to the radioactive issues, the entire NJ Drinking Water Quality Institute and DEP standards program are in disarray (see: JERSEY NIXES FILTRATION PLAN FOR DRINKING WATER – State Wants EPA to Act on Rising Chemical Contamination of Water Supplies

We’re hoping that the Atlantic City Press does a followup story that provides this information to readers, instead of the spin by negligent DEP and local officials.

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